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An Open Letter To Black Celebrities as the Movement for Black Lives Continues

 

 

In these seemingly worsening and turbulent times for racial, economic and social justice, I’d like to reach out to my brothers and sisters across the globe and make a simple declaration: I am here for you.

 

Whether or not we agree on every issue. I am here for you. Whether or not we have similar lifestyles. I am here for you. Regardless of your complexion, hair texture, level of education, personal style, marital status, sexual orientation, religion, type of housing, family make up, diet, body type, preferred vernacular, physical ability, academic capabilities, where you choose to shop and how you choose to resolve conflicts or cope with being Black in an anti- Black world- I am here. This took time and it is an on going process of unpacking, unlearning and choosing love.

 

I want you to know that my love for you will always compel me to fight for you. Your safety, happiness and health are of the utmost importance to me. When people hurt you, although I cannot physically share your pain, the connection I choose to share with you on a spiritual level ensures that I am moved to act when you have been done wrong, whether by an individual, a group or an institution.

 

I take PERSONAL offense when you are disrespected. From the woman at the bodega who rushes you to buy something because she assumes you’re trying to shoplift and slams your change down on the counter instead of putting it in your hand to the teacher who tries not to laugh when you tell him about your love for astronomy (YOU? An astronaut?!) and the police officers who stop you no matter what you’re wearing because ‘you look like someone they’re looking for,’ I choose not to accept this as your reality and dedicate myself to our freedom and autonomy as a collective.

 

I’m working everyday on not throwing you away when I feel as though you don’t love yourself or your people enough, because a dear friend recently reminded me that our conditioning exists by design and that we each have our own individual moment of awakening. The truth is some of us may never wake up, but there are enough of us with our eyes wide open to fight the good fight in an effort to help us ALL get free.

 

It is my dedication to our collective that compels me to speak to you- our most prominent figures- to demand better from you.

 

First, allow me to take ownership of my prejudice against you. We may have a shared heritage, but our lifestyles are worlds apart, and that can cause confusion and animosity on both sides. I understand that we are not a monolith. I understand that our experiences of blackness in our homes, in our families, in America and abroad, are very different. What I want us all to keep in mind is that the struggle for black autonomy doesn’t recognize class or celebrity. You cannot escape your skin or background anymore than I can, nor should you want or need to.

 

I am aware that choosing to live a life where your gifts and talents are what keeps the lights on comes with a certain level of hardship. I understand that everyone who sings, acts, plays sports or is paid to share their opinions with a broad audience isn’t necessarily an activist. It’s not a title to be taken lightly and it’s not a role we are all willing to play. This is a simple truth and I am trying every day to remember that you all are people just like us, with personal lives outside of the public sphere that we don’t know the first thing about. I acknowledge your humanity.

 

I want you to know that I truly believe we all have a role to play in our advancement as a people. You may not consider yourself a revolutionary and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. With every role you choose, with every song you sing, with every blog you write and every game you play- you are making a statement. With every endorsement you accept and every tweet you send you are supporting something or someone so when you dare to discuss the issues most pertinent to our community- you continue a dialogue that is essential not only to OUR empowerment, but to strengthening the very fiber of our national and global consciousness as well.

 

There will always be a wide array of opinions within our community because the diaspora is so beautifully diverse. That is a positive thing. But sometimes our most prominent figures fall short of presenting their opinions in a way that has the presumably intended effect of shedding light on an issue and offering holistic means to addressing it.

 

This letter is especially for them.

 

Most recently we’ve been discussing police brutality, community violence and the Black Lives Matter movement.

 

Pressing issues that existed way before us and movements built to address those issues should always be approached with nuance and context. However some of our best, brightest and most popular stars, as well as several figures known for their problematic views, have missed the mark tremendously in their commentary related to current events, often giving credence to a dangerous narrative steeped in respectability and one dimensional blackness or showcasing a lack of understanding about the necessary specificity of the Black Lives Matter movement.

 

I’m going to focus on the three most common trains of thought our celebs seem to fall into when these issues arise. The first is respectability politics.

 

The notion that if we dress formally, speak the King’s English, attain higher education, and perpetually turn the other cheek in instances when we are violated simply for existing makes us the kind of black person worth protecting is incredibly dangerous.

 

Chrisette Michele for example penned a scathing Instagram post last summer in which she suggested being ‘loud and violent’ was not the answer to injustice, and that respecting and abiding by the law is essential to receiving fair treatment under it. She also suggested that protesting, boycotting and otherwise vocalizing outrage and disrupting the status quo ‘hadn’t worked in the past’ and wouldn’t work today either. She signed her diatribe referring to herself as a ‘law abiding citizen.’ Fast forward 7 months and she’s performing at Donald Trump’s inauguration under the guise of ‘being a bridge.’

 

I lovingly and emphatically call bullshit sis.

 

The instagram post in question was made the same week Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and Delrawn Small were murdered by law enforcement despite the fact they were not brandishing their weapons while in open carry states, complying with officer instructions and having committed no crime. Two of these men have been immortalized in the public consciousness with videos and photos depicting their final moments- clear indicators of their innocence, and the third somehow managed to be shot to death during a ‘routine traffic stop,’ the same circumstances under which Sandra Bland would be brutalized and imprisoned never to be heard from again.

 

Only in a world where the innocence of black people is confirmed or denied based on any mistake or undesirable quality that can be found in their past would anyone suggest that in order to receive just treatment from the police, one must be a law abiding citizen.

 

The very nature of police work entails that these people will be in constant contact with law breakers. Should these citizens expect no protection under the very laws responsible for their subsequent arrest and incarceration? Are the new rules ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and ‘comply or die?’ Is that what democracy looks like?

 

I certainly hope not.

 

I implore Ms. Michele, Charles Barkley, the old dude who went viral when he fooled us all into thinking he was handsome with that beard and anyone else who subscribes to the notion that we are responsible for avoiding murder by ‘making good decisions’ to consider all the respectable, upstanding, innocent men, women and CHILDREN who have been brutalized and murdered by law enforcement.

 

Consider the case of Martese Johnson, an honor student and student government member at the University of Virginia who simply attempted to gain entry to a club near his campus allegedly using an expired ID and was slammed to the ground causing him to bleed profusely from the head. Or Tamir Rice, who was murdered on sight merely SECONDS after police arrived on the scene to answer a call about a ‘child with a toy gun’ although they never made their presence known. He was literally killed for being a kid and playing with a toy that so many of us grew up using some form of- whether water gun, Bebe gun or Nerf dart launcher- all of which can look like real weapons depending on the make, model and distance from which they’re being viewed. How about 7 year old Aiyana Stanley Jones whose only crime was being asleep on her family’s couch during a botched no knock raid on her home for which no one was ever held accountable? Or Tanesha Anderson, a 37 year old woman with mental health issues whose family called the police to support them in trying to soothe her, only to watch the authorities slam her face into the pavement while detaining her, ultimately killing her. Surely an honors student, two unsuspecting children and a woman in need of medical assistance don’t fit the bill of ‘criminals.’ Yet that is what they were treated like.

 

Conversely, when two white teenage boys were found to be in possession of ‘very realistic looking Bebe guns’ in a public park, they were alerted to the presence of police and given a chance to put their hands up. They incurred less than $400 in fines and court expenses between the two of them and were sentenced with community service and- get this- an essay about Tamir Rice. Not only did they live to see another day but they also inadvertently helped to underscore a narrative in which black boys don’t get a chance to be kids or make mistakes but the assurance of white children’s safety and room for improvement is of the highest priority.

 

Consider the case of Dylann Roof, perpetrator of the AME church massacre in which 9 black people were senselessly slaughtered after praying with their would be murderer, and how he was given a bullet proof vest and a burger when taken into custody. This is no coincidence, these are not exceptions, and if we continue to put the onus of responsibility on our people not to be victimized and not on our peace officers to stop DOING the victimizing then we are upholding the deadly anti-Black status quo.

 

The next oft- used derailing tactic when we are specifically attempting to discuss systemic violence against black and brown bodies is ‘black on black crime.’ We’ve heard variations of this rhetoric across the spectrum of black thought from the ever problematic Charles Barkley to pro Black hip hop trailblazers Lupe Fiasco & Kendrick Lamar, Christian rapper Lecrae and even actress, singer and Broadway starlet Keke Palmer. While their points were made differently and some commentary provided more nuance than others, the take away was the same: ‘You can’t kill each other and complain when someone else does it.’

 

Again. Fuck outta here. And I’ll tell you why.

 

Using that logic, the hundreds of black, Latino and Native American lives lost at the hands of police this year ALONE could be used to nullify the assassination of 5 police officers in Dallas. But that’s not how that turned out at all is it?

 

No, the entire country turned on Black Lives Matter that very same evening and called for the head of a peaceful protester who happened to be carrying a licensed firearm after Dallas PD wrongfully shared his photo identifying him as a suspect and left it online even AFTER he turned himself and his weapon in, proving he was not the shooter.

 

When police are killed in the line of duty protesters are asked to be ‘respectful.’ When police are targeted and murdered just for being police officers citizens are blown up by mysterious machines on American soil. No trial. No jury. No judge or deliberation. But when black lives are lost at the hands of individuals who make up historically racist power structures with century old patterns of violence against black and brown communities, the corporate media and average Joes alike perform a level of mental gymnastics I can’t adequately describe without going off on a tangent in order to absolve the boys in blue of any wrongdoing.

 

We have to do better.

 

We all have a role to play in dismantling the racist status quo and it does not serve the progression of oppressed communities or the future of relations with police (assuming my hopes to abolish the police as they currently exist will not come to fruition) when we use one type of violence to excuse another. This is an especially important distinction if we aren’t going to mention the history that connects the crime black people commit against one another to the crimes committed against them that result in the cyclic poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy and violence we see in many urban areas.

 

In an article for the Nation from August 2016 Joshua Holland said it best explaining that ‘It took 400 years of slavery, segregation, and institutionalized discrimination in the labor and housing markets to build the wealth gap that we see today’. What goes on in black and brown communities is a direct result of that purposeful designation of wealth and access coupled with mass media and marketing that presents black youth with false idols and skewed value systems as a way of life. Surely each of us must be held accountable for the state of our communities as we can all be the change we wish to see, but context is key and the deck is quite purposefully stacked against us.

 

The third talking point I’d like to address is one growing in popularity, notoriously used by ASAP Rocky in a 2015 Time Out New York interview that recently resurfaced and most embarrassingly utilized by Fetty Wap or Bow Wow depending on which Twitter roast session you found funnier. (All eyes matter?! Y’all dirt for that.)

 

It’s the notion that anyone who is multiracial and/ or affluent is no longer linked to their blackness and can therefore not understand, relate to or speak out against the systemic oppression effecting black and brown bodies globally.

 

Fetty said that since his children are mixed, he’s down with all lives matter. He and many others seem to have a deep desire to disassociate from blackness, even if it’s just slightly, by referencing non black relatives as a badge of honor and pro creating with members of other POC groups in the hopes of attaining ‘better’ hair, lighter skin and access to certain privileges that they know in their hearts their darker skinned, thicker haired counterparts are not afforded. Rather than acknowledge these inequities as the white supremacist ideology that that they are, people like Fetty take solace in the fact that they are less black by proximity to a Hispanic, white or Asian parent, child or significant other.

 

It’s laughable that these and other black artists, all of whom find the majority of their fan bases in the black community regardless of how many white folks have gotten trashed to their music, feel as though they could ever simply turn their blackness off. This is obviously not the case for every multi ethnic family but it is a trend too popular not to speak on.

 

ASAP Rocky said what a lot of black celebrities may be secretly thinking when he admitted to just wanting to talk about ‘fly gear, drawers he’s getting and friends that died’ instead of being ‘Al Sharpton or some shit’ since he’s ‘not in Ferguson and never has been.’ But if having money absolved black folks of all their race related problems Malia Obama would be able to go to Lalapalooza and have a good time without being lambasted as some kind of out of control party girl. Michelle Obama’s fitness would be celebrated in a country battling an obesity epidemic instead of used as a tool to constantly ridicule her for being ‘manly’ and suggest she is unfit to be the First Lady- a position she held gracefully despite consistent racists attacks against her and her family.

 

Having money and popularity on your side certainly gives you an advantage when dealing with a system built to oppress you, and the more Eurocentric features one has, the less anti Blackness can be hurled at them on the basis of apparent otherness, but if you feel like those differences remove you from the struggle altogether you are sadly mistaken.

 

The recent arrest of multi millionaire producer and emcee Dr. Dre outside his own home, the racist cyber bullying the lone black member of superstar pop group Fifth Harmony received after fans felt like she threw shade at one of her group mates and the racism Olympic gold medalist Rafaela Silva faces in her native country of Brazil on a daily basis because of her dark skin and thick hair are all just some of many examples from the week I finished this piece that prove neither affluence nor proximity to whiteness or POC who are not black can be used as ladders to escape the diaspora. Artists like Christina Milian and Becky G who have Afro Latino roots and have utilized urban appeal to achieve stardom and success in the mainstream proved their affinity to stay far away from blackness when inconvenient by tweeting #AllLivesMatter and back peddling after public ridicule. But the truth is that’s how they feel. And they aren’t the only ones.

 

It is my dream to see another Black Wall Street in my lifetime. I envision a black community where everyone, not only activists and members of disenfranchised groups, works to address the societal ills that plague black and brown people globally, but also addresses our internal struggles such as misogynoir and the lack of protection we offer our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I believe that challenging the institutions that uphold whiteness as most important by default such as the film and television industry, widely read publications and social media platforms, is just as important as challenging the racist Hetero-patriarchal status quo by legal and academic means. I think exposing the truth and the historical context that shapes our daily lives and building toward a new and brighter future where we are capable of sustaining ourselves are equally important.

 

If we continue to allow the dominant narrative, which puts the onus of responsibility not to be murdered on one of the most judicially unprotected groups in America’s history, and not our police and our justice system, this dream will not come to pass. If we continue to deflect when the very real issue of systemic injustice comes up and instead address without actually attempting to solve the issue of intra-community violence, this dream will not come to pass. If those of us who are fortunate enough not to want for anything continue to act as though our financial standing means we no longer have to deal with, and therefore shouldn’t care about racism, this dream will not come to pass. If those of us who come from or choose to create multiracial families continue to find our blackness shameful and disconnect from it as a result, this dream will not come to pass.

 

Each of our brothers and sisters with a platform has a magnifying glass on them at all times. On one hand it can be demoralizing to have everything you do, say and wear constantly picked apart and scrutinized. Too many times our stars have been misquoted and ripped to shreds on social media over a sound byte or shamed for not looking like a million bucks during a quick run to the store. I understand the heavy load our celebrities carry. I also think that everyone who exists and who acknowledges their Blackness in this anti- Black world carries a heavy load as well, and it is in all of our best interest to stand together against the individuals, narratives and institutions that do not support our rights to life, liberty, happiness, access and equity. Those of us in a position where people are watching us and waiting to see what we do or say next should be doing and saying as much as possible to protect the sanctity of Black life at all costs.

 

 

 

 

The Gun Violence Conversation We Aren’t Having

Preface:

This article is two years old and still relevant. To say that is a shame would be the understatement of the century. Gun violence effects us all. Patriarchy is killing us all. But Black People are still considered the ‘most violent’ and Muslim folks are still considered ‘terrorists.’ As if White male rage isn’t a thing. Isn’t THE thing. It would be laughable if we weren’t literally dying and that death wasn’t being normalized by these narratives while our very real mental health issues as a result of this treatment go unnoticed in favor of conversations about ‘bullied’ school shooters and ‘secluded’ church gunmen.  If we’re gonna talk about this let’s REALLY talk about it.

The Gun Violence Conversation We Aren’t Having (and really should be)

Initially when I saw Twitter ablaze with news of the shooting at UCLA earlier this month I was sad. Not stunned. I’m never shocked by these all too common occurrences on school grounds anymore. Guns in schools seem to be as common as politicians making empty promises and people actually believing them. But I was very upset. I tweeted my well wishes and predicted that even after another tragedy, gun control still wouldn’t win the day. 

I was right. 

10 days later Pulse night club in Orlando Florida was attacked by a lone gunmen with a homophobic vendetta on its very popular ‘Latin Night.’ It’s worth noting that Pulse is a safe haven for many queer Latinos and that the advertisement for Latin night featured Trans Latino & Black women. 49 people were murdered and 54 more injured. There were calls for gun control and prayers for the victims and their families all over social media. What I did NOT see was information about the victims. Slowly but surely the names of those killed or injured began coming to light. But before I saw that I was bombarded with information about the ‘radical Islamist’ shooter responsible for the attack. In the midst of a massacre perpetrated against over 100 members of the LGBTQ community that has been universally ostracized for SO long, for some reason, the focus was on the perpetrator’s religion. Isis would later claim responsibility for the attack but what extremist group wouldn’t latch on to an anti-gay massacre to bolster its credibility? Especially one losing territorial ground in Syria, Libya and Iraq, knowing the American media would run with the story.

While looking through the UCLA hashtag on Twitter and the Orlando tags today trying to keep up with the latest on the unfolding stories I came across the following tweet:

‘Poor kids in Chicago slums everyday: Meh

UCLA once ever: Hey, stop the presses!’

I was so moved by its accuracy and relevance that I immediately shared it with my own commentary. 

‘Honestly. Gun violence effects us all but POC are demonized & WYPIPO get the world’s empathy. He said it not me…’

Can you feel the shade? I was bitter in that moment. I cleaned up my act a bit in my subsequent tweets for clarity.

‘I could not agree more. We are constantly provided with proof that all lives do not matter.’

‘The entire #guncontrol debate centers around school shootings. They are tragic yes, but so is everyday gun violence.’

You know what happened next.

Strangers named Kathleen, Kit and Enigma Golfer among others came to the defense of absolutely no one to tell me how my injection of race into the conversation about the UCLA shooting was ‘inappropriate.’ 

‘It’s a time for prayers!’ 

‘College kids getting shot isn’t the same as drug dealers shooting each other!’ 

‘Surely a shooting at the University of Chicago would have received the same coverage!’ 

Hol’ up. I mention Chicago and your mind immediately goes to drug dealers? K. You think black ass UC would get the same media attention as UCLA? K. Prayers gon’ work just like they did at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Columbine? K. 

Then today when I called out the corporate media for jumping on the opportunity to paint a picture of a violent Muslim extremist despite the accounts from his ex- wife and parents that he was not religious, but incredibly homophobic, I received more of the same dismissive, outraged commentary. We know he pledged allegiance to Isis in a 911 phone call in the midst of the massacre and we know he shouted Allah Huakbar. What we don’t know is whether or not he was actually affiliated with Isis or just an individual exacting his will who was inspired by the extremist group, a phenomenon that is all too common within cultures that use fear to inspire violence in others, such as Donald Trump offering to pay the legal fees of supporters who physically harm protesters. After tweeting:

‘The mainstream media does an incredible job of showing society violent Muslims. It’s our job to know better.’

‘Because you are not connected to the Muslim community you have no idea what work it’s doing to combat extremism.’

‘And the notion that peaceful Muslims are somehow responsible for violent extremists is unfair.’

I was met with a resounding ‘No one kills for their religion except Muslims!’ I repeatedly demanded proof of this seemingly statistical data. Surely there were numbers to prove this purported lead the Muslim community has in the violent religion Olympics! But my requests went unanswered. Instead I was told that Christians would never do such a thing. Never! As if the Crusades never happened and evangelism wasn’t utilized to rationalize the brutal trans Atlantic slave trade for centuries. As if every religion, especially Christianity, doesn’t promote violence with hateful rhetoric related to God’s lack of tolerance for ‘men who lay with men’ every time an unapologetically homophobic pastor steps onto he pulpit. 

I don’t have the time Yall.

But I went ahead and found the time because in that moment I realized how different my experience and mentality around ‘gun violence’ and ‘extremism’ is from most of America’s. When people hear ‘gun violence’ they think of school shootings. They think of random acts of violence perpetrated by ‘crazy people.’ They consider these people anomalies and many don’t feel like these supposedly mentally ill folks who are few and far between are worth our collective 2nd amendment rights. 

When they hear ‘terrorism’ however, they distinctly connect Muslim people and countries to violent events that every modern society has been responsible for at one time or another. We don’t allow widespread white male rage to dictate our gun policy but we allow the actions of a subset of Muslims to dictate our foreign policy, waging war on entire faiths and regions of the world.

Consequently, when I hear gun violence I envision the police. I think about Trayvon Martin. I remember the ex who once hid a pistol in my dresser drawer without my knowledge. I remember how the serial number was scratched off and how my heart stopped when I saw it. I remember not taking his suspicious activity seriously until then and being grateful I had not gotten mixed up in his madness when we finally parted ways. I remember feeling sorry for him because that’s no way to live life. I remember the 4 year old boy who got hit by a stray bullet while playing in the park and the 6 month old baby girl who met the same fate while her father was changing her in their family’s SUV. 

When I hear the word terrorism I envision Dylan Roof. Right as he’s walking into AME baptist church in Charleston and making conversation with the nine people he would later murder in cold blood. I think back on the beginning of the Oregon siege and how a right wing militia overtaking indigenous land was framed in the media as a ‘grazing protest’ despite the fact that they were heavily armed and had even taken hostages at one point. I think about the 5 Black Lives Matter protesters who were shot while exercising their constitutional rights in Minneapolis last November. I think about the murders of 3 Muslim college students at Chapel hill and how the media attempted to frame it as a ‘parking dispute’ and not the hate crime it clearly was.

Fast forward to last night’s tragedy in Florida and we are exposed to yet another cultural disconnect within our national gun control debate. Nuance related to religion. Not only do we frame instances of gun violence differently based on the racial identities of the victims and perpetrators, but we also capitalize on narratives that demonize communities already criminalized for their appearance, attire and faith. As soon as it was discovered that Omar Mateen was Muslim, the Internet lost its collective mind, conservatives and bigots quickly tweeting various forms of the words ‘told you so!’ while horrified and indifferent Muslims alike recounted how just last week we were celebrating Black Muslim boxing legend and activist Muhammud Ali but were thrust back into the annals of progress when a singular Muslim chose to inflict their personal will after he saw two men kissing. 

I fear that most people don’t care enough about gun violence because we haven’t even started having the same conversation. We discuss gun control under the guise of collective rights and individual responsibility but it often seems that only black and brown folks pay the price for inflicting violence with the help of a gun. I had a black woman with Locs type the words ‘guns don’t kill people. PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE!’ In the comments section of my Instagram earlier today. I was FLOORED. But I was also reminded that it’s not only the privileged who soak up and act on the slanted reporting and selective humanizing or lack thereof that occurs in mainstream media reporting of shooting deaths.

Young white school shooters are humanized every time. Robust dialogue about mental health follows each and every school shooting carried out by a white child. White gun wielding perpetrators are often taken into custody without so much as a scratch. But black youth resorting to violence as a means of regaining power they lost somewhere along the way, often to the same culprits as these white children we want so badly to understand- such as bullying, broken families and mental health issues- they are painted as violent delinquents with no redeeming qualities who are unfit to be integrated into society. Black suspects are often brutalized and even killed for wielding such ‘weapons’ as sticks and wallets. Children of middle Eastern descent go to school with home made clocks and get arrested and criminalized instead of applauded and celebrated.

So the gun control debate and how we discuss who gets criminalized for using them is not the same for me as it might be for someone whose not experiencing life as a black woman fearful for the black and brown men, women and children she loves. We need to start pooling our knowledge on the pain gun violence causes us all, acknowledging how we as a society almost encourage it with our treatment of those responsible or lack thereof, and start having the same conversation in order to address the many gun related issues we face today. 

I had the good fortune of growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Before it was the safe haven for all things gentrification complete with an enormous police presence, it was diverse in a less forced and anti- Black way, or at least it appeared to be in my young mind. Everyone had a tendency to be ethnocentric but the kids who had no interest in their parent’s  indifference toward broadening their horizons had a damn good time together in school, at the park, and hanging out in local establishments. We even dared to bring one another home. My social media interactions in the past month alone have shown me that those interactions may not count for much, with some of those same old ‘friends’ showing up on posts about my experiences as a Black woman to call me ‘divisive’ and scream ‘I too am oppressed!’ But I digress.

I bring this up because I didn’t grow up in a city known for its violence. Seeing that gun in my dresser drawer was the closest I’ve ever come to being near one. I’ve never witnessed someone get shot and I’ve never been shot. I’ve never even heard a gun shot, save that one time at Jouvert when someone decided it was time to act up and I scrambled through several crowded Flatbush side streets with some close friends. But I empathize with victims of gun violence across the spectrum and I think we need to start acknowledging a lot more people as such. 

We demonize entire black communities who lose children to gun violence without stopping to take stock of the trauma living in an environment riddled with death can cause. We have no regard for the entire communities full of men, women and children we have wiped from the face of the Earth after invading their home lands in a the name of democracy only to pump them full of lead. We don’t even grieve collectively for slain Black and brown children because as far as we’re concerned it’s either ‘their fault’ (war on drugs) or ‘the ends justify the means’ (war on terror.) When we do grieve a young black child’s death at the hands of a community member, we always make sure to demonize that person without ever looking at the circumstances surrounding their desire to carry and utilize a deadly weapon. Some would argue the very possession of a gun in certain neighborhoods is a matter of life or death. We need to start meeting people where they’re at if we are to effect change and save lives across cultures and socio-economic boundaries.

We extend the utmost grace to violent white children. We are bombarded with the life stories and familial hardships of white perpetrators of violence without fail. And baby pictures. Always with the baby pictures. I don’t recall seeing a baby picture of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin or Rekia Boyd but I damn sure got a glimpse of Tryavon flipping me the bird several times across the mainstream media landscape as well as a hulking and unsmiling Michael Brown. These are the images that aid in our continued lifting up of white anguish to excuse white violence while simultaneously upholding the racial myths that black men are inherently deviant, dangerous and criminal, men who appear Muslim are terrorists and black & Muslim women aren’t even worth mentioning unless the conversation relates to policing their appearance. There is no place to start a holistic dialogue about gun violence under these circumstances.

Instead of leaving you with a concluding paragraph that wraps all this up I just want to leave you with my thoughts for the many different types of victims of gun violence across the country and the world at large.

My heart goes out to the #Orlando Community and the patrons of #Pulse who were there that fateful night.

My heart goes out to the LBGTQ community and every victim of gun violence who was targeted because of their sexuality or gender expression.

My heart goes out to #UCLA.

My heart goes out to the students and staff in every school that has experienced this all too common tragedy.

My heart goes out to the worried families who see their kids, spouses and siblings off to school or work only to see their destination on the news hours later and have to wonder ‘did they make it out alive?’ 

My heart goes out to the folks who were sitting in the Century 16 movie theatre that was senselessly shot up in Aurora Colorado.

My heart goes out to the parents, families and friends of victims of lethal police brutality.

My heart goes out to the parents, families and friends of victims of gang violence.

My heart goes out to the parents of children hit by stray bullets living in communities impacted by generational poverty, police misconduct, and structural racism.

My heart goes out to the gang members whose pain no one acknowledges because they ‘chose’ that life. 

My heart goes out to the black men locked up simply for having a gun because in their world it is a necessity. 

My heart goes out to the Muslim community which has been surveilled, profiled, assaulted, imprisoned and murdered since that fateful day in September 2001.

My heart goes out to the families of the Chapel Hill shooting victims.

My heart goes out to the students, cab drivers and shop keepers who have been attacked in the wake of extremist violence in Paris and San Bernardino.

My heart goes out to the victims and families of gun violence perpetrated in the name of ‘Islam.’

My heart goes out to the victims and families of gun violence perpetrated in the name of ‘saving America.’

Or the ‘war on drugs.’ 

Or the ‘war on terror.’ 

My heart goes out to the generations of people across the globe impacted by gun violence in the name of ‘God.’ 

My heart goes out to the mentally ill from all backgrounds who are often met with violence instead of the help they need while we continually lump neurotypical people in with them to excuse their violence.

My heart goes out to the victims of white male rage whose loss is always overshadowed by a convenient empathy seeking narrative for the perpetrators rather than the victims.

Your hearts should go out to each other as well. 

‘Gun sense’ will never happen without cross cultural empathy and taking a long hard look at the culture of violence at the government, state, local and interpersonal level, whose violence we allow and whose we punish, is the ONLY away to change the tide. Neither thoughts, prayers, racism nor xenophobia have gotten the job done so far. It’s time for a different conversation.

On Intersectional Feminist Love & The Commodification of Black Womanhood

Originally published in Taji Magazine.

Get yours here And support Black creatives & entrepreneurs: tajimag.com/purchase

Note: I’ve grown significantly more radical since the publication of this article lol. It still rings true but Black women, marginalized genders and children are my priority. They have to be. Who will put us first if not us?

#ProtectBlackWomanhood

If you love Kim K but think Beyonce is ‘overrated’ this is for you.

As a feminist I know it is not my place to police the clothing or make up choices of my fellow women. It is not my job nor is it my desire to see any woman vilified for her sexuality. I generally don’t concern myself with whether or not women are drastically changing their bodies, whether by natural or medical means, as long as they are safe. And I could care less about the relationship preferences another woman has as an autonomous human being unless, again, her safety or that of who she’s pursuing is an issue. We sign up for a lifelong commitment to honoring all women when we proclaim ourselves ‘feminists’ and it is a title I take very seriously. 

It is because I take this title so seriously that I must be critical in my examination of not only the Kardashians, but what they represent in society. For me, they represent a hard truth. Nobody loves black women.

I know this because I am a black woman. Although I have the good fortune of a dutiful father, a respectful brother, a loving fiancé, a charming son and a fierce circle of sisters and mothers holding me up, they feel more and more like anomalies to me every day in the face of societal disinterest in acknowledging the authenticity and ingenuity of black women.

This doesn’t mean black women aren’t fetishized and  romanced in addition to being harbingers of couture fashion and popular culture. This is not to say we aren’t beautiful, amicable, intelligent, hard working, funny, radiant, sexy, creative and powerful. This is not to say we aren’t worth loving. 

What I’m saying is that folks see everything we have to offer, steal it, use us up, cast us out, and then call us bitter for asking, ‘What did you do that for?’

As someone who grew up sitting between her mother’s knees getting some of the coolest and most inventive styles of corn rows you could find in Brooklyn I am particularly irritated by the tendency of white and non black people of color alike to co-opt black culture, erase us from the conversation on the basis of ‘appreciation’ or being ‘down’ and make a profit or gain a following from their theft in the process, such as the accolades Kylie received for wearing cornrows and the creation of the term ‘KKW’ braids to acknowledge Kim Kardashian West as the trendsetter who made the look popular. 

The fact that when Kylie Jenner was spotted rocking faux Locs she was heralded as ‘edgy’ but bi-racial pro Black starlet Zendaya Coleman was subjected to incredible ignorance after wearing the same style to the 2014 Oscars when E! news correspondent Juliana Rancic suggested she looked like she smelled of ‘patchouli oil and weed’ speaks volumes. 

I want to stop for a second and reiterate my unflinching loyalty to the female race. We need each other. But as a black woman I’m privy to the often uncomfortable conversations we must have in order to lift up the lived experiences of each and every woman on this planet. The differences in those experiences and our acknowledgement of them or lack thereof can either make us part of the problem or part of the solution. Intersectional feminism requires us to take a good hard look at how women oppress one another, adding to the trauma caused by our patriarchal society.

Black women are constantly sent the message that they are ugly and unimportant but it seems that when you attach the features, skin tones and style that originate in our cultures and communities to other women they are heralded as trendsetters and beauty icons. Just last year people lost their minds over a Mac cosmetics ad featuring the wonderfully full lips of an African model and in the same year, people participated in a ‘Kylie lip challenge’ on social media in which they used water bottles to create lines on their mouths to make them appear large and pouty. The model was shamed and called an ape and a n****r all across social media but Kylie is celebrated for her pout to this day.

What does it mean that America seems to love black bodies and trends but has no regard for black lives or ownership of its cultural staples? What does it mean that many conversations about appropriation consist of black people first and foremost explaining, repeatedly, that appropriation is indeed a political and social issue that effects their every day lives and a symptom of much larger societal ills? How can we have conversations that differentiate appropriation from appreciation so people understand that the sharing of cultures is not the same as the commodification of cultures for popularity at the expense of those who created them?

These are the questions we must consider if we are to fight for the equality of all women of the world. One woman’s trend is another woman’s lifestyle and that should not be taken lightly in a world where certain cultures are constantly demonized and subjected to one dimensional narratives in the mainstream media and our collective consciousness. 

From Native American head dresses and Chicana Street style to African textiles, ‘tribal prints,’ bindis and kimonos, it is imperative that we consider why it is so easy for us to adopt the lifestyles of people of color for a couple of hours and reap the rewards of their visual appeal without having to live with the reality attached or even bothering to learn about the people whose food and clothing we welcome so warmly into our homes.

As feminists it is our duty to step outside ourselves and attempt to perceive life the way other women experience it in order to become better friends, sisters, allies and advocates for the humanity of all women. As decent human beings it is imperative that we take the time, effort and energy to send a message to the world that we will not stand by idly while Black women are mistreated as their very bodies are recreated on women society doesn’t hate as much.

Rape Culture 101: What Erykah got Wrong and how we all Lose when Black men get a pass to be Predators

Originally published in Taji Mag Volume 7

Get your copy at TajiMag.com/purchase and #BuyBlack

 

Preface: In light of the conversations infecting our on and offline lives as Bill Cosby and Kavanaugh make headlines and we continue to find reasons not to #MuteRKelly, I felt like this was an appropriate #Throwback for the blog.

To my survivors out there, you deserve every good thing and the basic level of decency you have yet to receive from society is- at the very least- shared among us.

This is the first time I’ve declared #MeToo or #BelieveSurvivors since these particular men began to make waves (again), not because I don’t care or because I haven’t been paying attention- but because Black Women NEVER receive the level of support, amplification, empathy or goodwill that we as a society show other demographics of women.

The conversation explored in this particular blog is an in house one.

But we would all do well to reflect on who has been shouting into the void to no avail, whose movements lose sight of their very creators when they go mainstream (shout out to Tarana), whose names we hashtag, the names we forget and who we choose to publicly uplift in a world where we could educate ourselves at the push of a button and restructure our organizing and ‘allyship’ Accordingly.

Shout out to Anita Hill & Kimberlè Crenshaw.

Rape Culture 101: What Erykah got wrong & how we all lose when black men get a pass to be predators  

You’ve probably heard by now that living legend and ambassador of woke-ness before it was hot- Ms. Erykah Badu- had quite a few things to say about a school decision on where the hem line of its female population should fall. The singer and creative suggested in a series of tweets that young women must be as modest as possible so as not to arouse grown men who she implied are ‘naturally’ inclined to be attracted to women of ‘child bearing age’ since the school in question was a high school. 

In the age of E-shade Twitter fingers quickly turned to trigger fingers- some shooting down the soul songstress with accusations of victim blaming and misogynoir, others coming to her defense suggesting it wasn’t a bad idea. After all, who could it hurt to be modest? 

The conversation touched on the role that nature vs nurture and law vs morality play in how men interact with younger women and how they should, citing child marriage as something that was once a norm and still is in some parts of the world- suggesting that what is ‘correct’ and what is ‘legal’ are not always one in the same. 

The think pieces rolled out swiftly over the next couple of days, most indicting Erykah for participating in rape culture, some suggesting her view point showcases the disconnect between supposed black revolutionaries and the safety and protection of black women and girls specifically. One thing was certain. Ms. Badu had struck a chord.

I thought long and hard about her message as I scrolled through her Twitter feed. I even scored a follow from the queen of neo soul herself after joining the conversation by tweeting the following.

‘As the mother of a baby girl and someone who is practical, I’m fine with dress codes.’

‘But as the mother to a son as well, I’m not depending on skirt length to keep my son in check.’ 

In that moment my soul reminded me what my head and heart already knew despite my very conscious effort to find a shred of truth in what mama Badu was saying.

I kept seeing the word ‘realistic’ used in reference to her comments. As if raising boys who are not rapists was some kind of unattainable goal and the best we could do is police the attire of our women and girls in the hopes young men can keep their composure.

In any scenario when a man of any age is given the option of blaming predatory behavior on nature and not his own lack of self control we are not being ‘realistic.’ We are making excuses. 

A man liking what a woman wears does not mean she wore it for him. A man thinking a woman is ‘looking for attention’ does not give him a pass to speak to her disrespectfully and it DEFINITELY does not grant him permission to put his hands or any other body parts on or near her.

When we, as black women, suggest that male sexuality is stronger than male self control- and provide a narrative that suggests the onus of responsibility is on women not to be raped, instead of on men not to COMMIT rape, we are failing an entire community. 

We are giving credence to a Eurocentric narrative that suggests our men are nothing more than violent, hyper sexual beasts here to literally rape and pillage. 

We are ignoring the statistics which clearly affirm the Malcolm X quote resurfacing on the Internet after appearing in Beyonce’s most recent visual album Lemonade, asserting that ‘the most disrespected person in America is the black woman.’ 

So much so that even the ‘wokest’ of us will rationalize violent black male misogyny and disguise it as healthy, educational debate. Erykah may have been speaking about men and women in general terms but when I see her I see us and I know I’m not the only one.

As one of the most prominent faces of black consciousness in pop culture her take on this matters, and the fact she does not acknowledge how her viewpoint is complicit in upholding the violence inflicted on black women and girls every day is depressing to say the least.

As the mother to a 3 year old baby girl I do not have an issue with dress codes in general although they are violently enforced on our young black girls as a direct result of society’s hyper sexualization of them. But as the mother of an 8 year old young man as well, I am not depending on skirt length to keep him in check. That is my job as his mother. 

When you teach boys they get a special pass because masculinity equates to an insane sex drive and an overwhelming need to ‘spread his seed’ you are hyper sexualizing our young men as well. A look at any rape statistic, and specifically those on black women and girls, will show you we are already suffering as a result. 

Black women are sexually assaulted at a rate of 40%-60% by the time we are 18 years old. We represent 40% of the population of young girls trafficked right here in the U.S. and a large majority of the rape kits in the state of Michigan back logged so far that women have been fundraising themselves just to pay for them to be tested.

We are most vulnerable to incarceration as our girls are 6 times more likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts, thus engaging the school to prison pipeline that leaves us vulnerable to the gender based violence running rampant in communities struck by generational poverty- including sexual violence.

We as a community cannot afford to Ignore the big picture regardless of our individual clothing choices and preferences. The sexualization of our children is running rampant and its unacceptable. We tell our girls ‘be respectable’ and give our boys a pass to ‘be men’ and don’t realize we are directly responsible for creating situations where rape is imminent. 

Ask any young woman over the age of 11 and she’ll tell you stories about the young men who accost her in the street, vying for her attention and time on the basis of her attractiveness and perceived sexuality- regardless of what she’s wearing.

Listen to her tell you how they speak to her. Listen to the language they use when addressing that young queen on her way home from school or work. Let her describe how close they get to her face. How they put their hands on her when she tries to hurry by. How they block her path so she has no choice but to acknowledge them. 

Let baby girl show you how he pulled her headphones out because she wasn’t paying him any mind and then called her a bitch when she said ‘I don’t give out my phone number.’ 

Consider the women of the diaspora across the globe, who wear hijabs, saris, dashikis, kimonos and other clothing that covers their bodies daily and still live in fear of rape. Consider how often this fear is realized. Consider that a long skirt is no more difficult to rip off than a pair of pants. Consider ‘modesty’ does not disguise a beautiful body.

Then ask yourself what clothes have to do with rape culture and how you can STOP being a part of it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CareFreeBlackKids 2K18 & Beyond

There’s something I’ve noticed in my travels as an educator and teaching artist in New York City. I’ve worked with early childhood daycare centers, summer camps, elementary schools and junior highs throughout Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. No matter where I go or what age I teach, there is a tendency among black youth to act very shy and/ or uninterested.

The students who strive for success and think outside the box are often mocked and shamed into silence and inactivity while perfectly capable students who go out of their way to underachieve are lifted up amongst the social hierarchies in their respective schools as the kids to emulate.

I had a hard time understanding this and then I started looking at my own life and the parents around me. And I realized we’re the problem.

How many times have you heard a black parent on public transportation tell their very small child to ‘shut up!’ How many instances in your own life can you recall of being reprimanded or even hit, simply for ‘playing too much’ or ‘talking too loud’ or ‘not staying still.’ How many times have you overreacted to your own child’s innocent enthusiasm with aggravation, or worse, indifference?

I know what you’re thinking if you have your own children, and I’m not writing this to make you feel bad. I know I’m guilty of going off the deep end when I need some peace and quiet. I have snapped at my beautiful babies more than a time or two and stolen their joy simply because I didn’t get enough rest or I didn’t have it in me to answer a million questions or play a card game when they asked me to.

Parents are only human, and black parents have to be super human in a world that lets our children know from a very young age that they are different, while simultaneously expecting 100% more effort from them just to receive half the accolades of their counterparts. That can be a hard pill to swallow and it’s a terrifying reality we must alert our children to if they are to overcome it. But that doesn’t mean they can’t live full lives and bask in the innocence of their childhood like all kids deserve to.

Once we convince our children that they should hush for our comfort or that enthusiasm is something to be snuffed out, they internalize excitement as unnecessary and stoicism as a natural reaction to someone else’s passion. That leaves us with entire schools full of kids who love the resident knucklehead but tear down the ‘nerd’ excited about the 95% they received on a math test, or a group of girls who would love to take African dance but won’t sign up because they don’t want to be labeled ‘lame’ for participating in school activities.

If we all put a little more effort into exploring our children’s natural talents and interests with them, encouraging their excitement instead of stifling it, and allowing them access to a full range of emotions, including their loud and rambunctious side- I think we’d find ourselves living in communities full of children with better interpersonal skills and access to their innate potential.

There’s nothing I want more for our young people than harmony amongst themselves and opportunities to reach their highest potential. As parents, relatives and community members, the least we could do is start practicing enthusiasm and kindness at home.

5 Things You Could Do RIGHT NOW that mean more than an RIP post after a Suicide

Let’s get right to it. A lot of our folks are struggling to shine their light in this world. Our #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy is up against so much in the face of white supremacist sexist structures and the pieces of these abusive systems that we internalize.

The suicides of natural hair icons like creator of For Brown Girls, Karyn Washington, and world renowned rockstar and introduction to rock for many black millennials, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, remind us how close to home depression and anxiety can truly hit, even when someone isn’t showing apparent signs of despair or they seem to have ‘gotten better.’ While suicide is a personal decision, we could all be more diligent about the love we show one another while we’re still here.

Here are some things I’ve learned through my personal struggle with depression as well as how I am able to provide safe space for my loved ones when they are struggling.

1. Educate yourself about mental health.

We throw the words around and we claim ‘black mental health matters’ but can you identify the symptoms of PTSD in your loved ones? Do you scoff at words and phrases like ‘triggered’ and ‘safe space?’ You probably need to check yourself and do some research. At the very least, you may want to start thinking about how unresolved pain and fear can effect peoples ability to make decisions, establish and maintain relationships and resolve conflicts. This knowledge doesn’t mean you have to tolerate toxic behavior but it does give you a clearer look at your loved ones humanity.

2. Talk to your people.

I have a habit of checking in with my loved ones. I accept that everyone is not good with keeping in touch, but it is essential, and if we care as much as we say we do, we should try to be more present for one another on a day to day basis. Make a monthly coffee date with that friend you can never seem to catch on their off day. Plan a weekly ‘girls night’ conference call to catch up with your crew. Start a meet up for all those wonderful women you met on Facebook who inspire you and live in your area. Have all your nephews over for a sleep over one weekend and ask about what’s going on in their lives. We don’t always realize it, but these small gestures can be the safety net a loved one desperately needs when things get rough, and they provide a unique opportunity for sharing.

3. Use communication as a means of healing.

It’s not enough to send a drive by ‘hey how are you?’ Text once a week. It’s a start, but chances are it’s not an effective tool in getting to know what’s really going on in someone’s life. You’re not likely to find out someone’s medical issues, emotional health status or chronic physical ailments via text message. And frankly they may not want to share that information if you don’t speak on a regular basis. BUT. The more you reach out, the stronger your relationships get, assuming the recipient of your correspondence is receptive to it.

4. Be present. Even when you aren’t getting your desired response from loved ones.

Our ways of coping, existing, surviving and healing differ widely. Even an individual you’ve known for years can change suddenly as a result of trauma or despair. When someone ‘drops off the face of the earth’ it is not an automatic slap in the face to your relationship. Your first response should be concern, not indignation. If it turns out you and a loved one have grown apart, let it be because the season for your relationship was simply over- not because of a lack of communication or trying on your part.

5. Utilize #SelfCare as well as #SquadCare

Although we live in an individualistic, capitalist society the truth is we need each other. Sometimes we are overwhelmed and it effects our productivity, health and even our personalities and interactions. Having a village to support you doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for maintaining your own well being- but it does lighten the load when you are unable. After all- we’re human. Despite this fact, asking for help can be particularly difficult for black women who are often raised to be everything for everyone at their own expense and black men who are taught that softness and vulnerability are shameful and emasculating. Finding the balance between learning ourselves so we can properly care for our own physical, spiritual and emotional needs and knowing when to ask for help is crucial to the health of black folks.

We gon’ be alright.
But only together.
Love on somebody today.
#ForTheCulture

This article originally appeared in Taji Magazine. Purchase a copy here: tajimag.com

Check out more articles at https://tajhsutton.com/media

Note: Our collective responses to the deaths of people like Anthony Bourdain and Mac Miller, and our sympathy for women like Demi Lovato who almost died due to an overdose vs. how we respond to people like Whitney Houston and Lil Wayne as they battle(d) addiction paint a very sad picture of the amount of grace we show one another whereas we empathize with everyone else.

It’s also not lost on me that suicide really does seem like the best option to some people and it often has nothing to do with what anyone else is or isn’t doing because as Taji Mag founder Nay Marie once said, ‘the voice in your head is always the loudest.’ This list is just meant to serve as encouragement for us to move through life with a bit more kindness for ourselves and each other.