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Written by Jordan Occasionally.
After a second night of protests with “activist” Devante Hill, I felt an unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. A few friends that I normally walked with in former protests stopped showing up and I wondered why. “Watch out. He’s a pig in sheep’s clothing,” they told me. And I didn’t want to believe them. But after walking with him for a second time, some of his noticeable errors were hard to ignore.
When protesters met together at the last temple that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King gave a speech, Clayborn Temple, Devante Hill was already bragging about a new megaphone that someone acquired for him after a verbal altercation with the Memphis Black Lives Matter (BLM) Chapter ensued the night prior. I saw nothing wrong with him making lighthearted jokes about things, as black people often laugh in response to trauma. I tried to ignore it; however, I refused to look away when I noticed him taking videos of protesters expressing their opinions on the movement. I found this to be concerning, considering the lives he was putting at risk had their identities been revealed to white supremacists and cops who have been abusing innocent lives (as we’ve collectively seen all over social media).
After an exercise of kneeling, in solidarity with George Floyd who had his life taken in front of the world, us protesters saw another crowd of protesters approach us chanting the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The first words that came out of Devante Hill’s mouth in response when they were closer to us was, “Don’t let these counter protesters distract you.”
Counter protesters? I wondered, why use those words to describe them when they are actively amplifying the lives that we were risking ours for? When the crowd got closer, their commands became more imperative. “Do not follow Hill!” On the brink of an argument, I decided to step in the middle of both Hill and the “counter-protesters” to diffuse the situation. I had mentioned on Twitter earlier in the day jokingly that if “battle of the leaders” happened again, I would try to come to the bottom of it.
I talked with the “counter-protesters” and asked them if we could come together for the sake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and too many other names. I soon found out these were leaders supported by Memphis’s Black Lives Matter Chapter. I started to feel uneasy as I learned from someone in the crowd that Devante had been selling t-shirts to raise money for the BLM Memphis Bail Fund, but BLM had never received a penny from the sales. The more people asked Devante about where the money was going, the more he avoided it altogether.
This raised a few red flags for me, not just because of money but because of my life as a protester. If I were to wear a shirt from a publicized protest, I could easily be pinpointed by an officer. I suddenly felt that my life was at risk in Devante’s hands, but I wanted to think smart about things. Memphis had just passed a curfew for ten p.m, so I made it up in my mind that I would try to leave earlier in the night for the sake of my own anxiety.
Finally, the two sides came to an agreement and we were en route to protest. We were on our way with Frank Gotti (representative of the BLM chapter) and Devante Hill in the front. Whenever police cars would pile up on side streets, Gotti would take us on a new route. His routes often included informative facts about historic buildings in the city that had direct correlation with black exploitation. I grew frustrated when Devante Hill admitted on his megaphone that he had no idea these buildings were actually there.
More importantly, when Frank Gottie took us on a route that we never took before, the cops were absolutely nowhere to be found. In moments like these, Devante would climb atop a statue or a “flower bed” and discuss his concerns with race, leaving us protesters in a single spot for an unbearably long time.
Devante Hill would often allow older white men and women to “speak their truth” or he would point out signs from white protesters instead of choosing to amplify marginalized voices like black trans-women and other black voices in the crowd.
One of the men Hill appointed for a “speech” literally said “I don’t see color,” and the entire crowd of Black, Latinx, Asian, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern, and White folks looked around uncomfortably.
Another moment that made many confused was when Devante Hill would do a chant that came off as a performative mechanism for cameras. He would tell black people to say, “I can’t breathe,” and ask white people to follow with the same chant, “because when we can’t breathe, you can’t breathe!” Once again, the crowd had protesters of all backgrounds there that were being left out of the conversation completely.
Around 8:30 P.M, I noticed that we were moving further and further away from our cars, and by 9:15 PM, we were nearly a twenty minute walk away. Whenever we turned a corner at Hill’s request, cops already seemed to know where we were going. They were there before we could even meet them. With only 45 minutes to spare before curfew, a young black man had expressed his anger in the face of the cops. As protesters, I saw this as an opportunity to stand in solidarity with this young man who was expressing so clearly the outrage we felt in our hearts. I wanted us to surround him and let him know that we were there to protect him. But Devante Hill lead us protesters in the opposite direction, leaving the young man exposed and vulnerable as it lacked a quality of “peacefulness”.
My heart hurt for the man that looked like my father, my nephew, and my cousin left behind by so many, and that was when I ran for my car (which again was twenty minutes away). As I was running, I could still hear Devante’s speeches echoing in the distance when the clock was almost at ten p.m, just minutes away from curfew.
Luckily, I found a ride and made it home safely. When I opened Twitter for the first time since the protest began, I noticed an article that looked a lot like propaganda to me. “Sixth night of Memphis protests ends peacefully at 10 P.M. Curfew.” https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/2020/06/01/memphis-protests-monday-curfew-george-floyd-police-brutality/5312103002/
Peacefully? Where was the peace when that man was left exposed to the dogs and the horses in the distance? Or when I received a few messages from my friends that they felt like they were being followed by undercover cops when they walked to their cars after curfew.
I expressed my concerns with those who had warned me prior to the protest about Devante Hill that I no longer felt safe in his custody. The entire night, we had to beg him to mention Breonna Taylor. There was no amplification for Tony McDade either. I left the protest feeling powerless.
As a millennial, I took to what I knew best to express my concerns: Twitter! I wrote a thread about my feelings at the protest, and in just a few hours I had more retweets than I could keep up with.
So many others at the protest started to expose their feelings about him taking photos of them and leaving them vulnerable after curfew.
Some even said that he was mentioning the exact same things in other protests, as if he had organized a script of some sort.
In fact, someone shared with me that prominent figures in our community, Darin Abstin Jr., Victoria Jones, and so many others ended up in police custody after a protest lead by Hill where he fled the scene. Our County Commissioner that organizes alongside the BLM Memphis Chapter, Tami Sawyer, was the only leader that stayed with protesters at the precinct the entire night to bail them out.
A good friend of mine shared with me an article in the past of him being arrested for false reporting. https://www.fox13memphis.com/news/memphis-activist-devante-hill-charged-with-false-reporting/400976678/
Soon there was so much proof of him exploiting black trauma that it was impossible to ignore, including stealing the identity of an ex-lover named Rell Smith for his own personal gain. “Devante Hill stole my identity…Follow him at your own risk.”
But he has ignored it all. And in a facebook group message full of passionate advocators, where he was an admin, he began deleting allegations as they rose to the surface.
The way this man has toyed with innocent lives for his own gain, uplifting himself instead of centering the very lives that die on the hands of those that are supposed to protect and serve, is nothing short of disgusting. Some may say that articles like these are created to bring down a black man serving his community, but as a black, queer woman who has grown up here and advocated for black lives in Memphis since before this all began, I would have to disagree that Devante Hill is from this community at all. Now that I have been given a platform by the very people that felt comfortable enough to confide in me, it is only right that I share this information with anyone that will listen.
“I Still Know What You Did Last Summer: Pandemic, Pride, and HIV Afterlives”
Atlanta Black Pride began as a picnic.
Once upon a time in 1996, “a small group of African American lesbian and gay friends held a picnic over Labor Day weekend to celebrate their unique experience in Atlanta’s LGBT community. Each year, the group grew with others from the community and neighboring cities.” This swelling group would become the non-profit, volunteer-led 501(c)3 organization, In The Life Atlanta (ITLA). As a founding party to the International Federation of Black Prides, ITLA annually hosts upwards of 100,000 Black queer people in Atlanta, Georgia–comandeering almost every major club, the entire metro area, and, the city’s heartbeat, Piedmont park.
Atlanta Black Pride is the largest pride event dedicated to Blackqueer people in the World.
Of course, everyone who attends is not affiliated with ITLA, nor is every event held in the name of Atlanta Black Pride on Labor Day weekend engineered with the consultation or even knowledge of ITLA. However, I find it imperative to properly situate what can be considered a kind of Blackqueer Hajj into the larger, historical context of the “Black (gay) Mecca”.
As I write this, cases of COVID-19 and resultant deaths are on a relative decline in Georgia. Yesterday, September 4, 63 people died; ten less than the number who died the day before on September 3. There were 2,066 cases discovered yesterday as well, which in comparison to the 2,675 found the day before seems like progress–seems.
Either unwittingly or out of sheer moral dereliction, Blackqueer people have, nonetheless, crowded the concrete corridors of downtown Atlanta in the name of “Pride”. Fulton County, in which Atlanta resides, has the most cases of any county in Georgia with 25,540 confirmed cases to date. Footage from inside clubs packed passed capacity proliferated Black twitter. Bodies move as if welded together; the building heaves as it holds them–constricted and ecstatic. Sweat and swisher-soaked shirts find their way up over heads, tucked into jeans or draped across clavicles, couches. Tongues untied touch, mouths unmasked meet. Exhales no longer waited; they breathe each other in, eliding every edict to distance. Under these conditions, death is imminent, intimate.
In 2018, WSB-TV reported that, according to Emory University’s Center of AIDS research, HIV infections had reached “epidemic” proportions for Blacks in Atlanta, with every 1 in 51 Black people at risk of diagnosis. 42% of new HIV diagnoses in the country in the same year were among adult and adolescent Black people. Black queer men–the demographic majority of Atlanta Black Pride, I must add–make up for 37% of new diagnoses among all queer men in the United States.
One of the very few things known about COVID-19 is that it disproportionately impacts the already immunocompromised–the Elderly, the infantile, the asthmatic, the seropositive. Hence, it would seem to behoove the Blackqueer attendants of Atlanta Black Pride–who by no means nor stretch of the imagination are solely responsible for the intracommunal increase of HIV diagnoses nor by majority, themselves, seropositive–to be vigilant, not simply about their own health but about the health of their larger community. Put differently, Atlanta Black Pride 2020 seems blissfully ignorant of, not merely this current historical moment but, moreso, itself; its attendees–against the backdrop of 5,000+ deaths, 263,000 cases and counting, impending eviction crises, mass unemployment, abolitionist unrest–begin to appear almost morally bereft.
I’d be remiss if I did not mention that most of the event fliers appeal to cisheteronormative cultural appetites with well-oiled and scantily clad, light skin men/mascs who titillate the impoverished desirability politics of its viewers. Consequently, thin, conventionally desirable, cisgendered, homonormative Black men get to feel most hailed and at home. This may possibly clarify why it looks to be the case that, for Atlanta Black Pride and her benefactors, the pandemic is not to be taken seriously; to whom/what do cisgay men ever feel accountable?
On the other hand: it is, however, simply empirically untenable, outright false to assert or even suggest that Black cisgay men are the only Blackqueer folks present for Pride. Anything else would be or border erasure. This, then, raises an even more harrowing question: for whom/what is the Blackqueer responsible? If cases rise in Atlanta post-Pride, even if only within Blackqueer commons, are Blackqueer people, even partially, responsible? Who is the onus on to defend Blackqueer life or stave off Blackqueer death and dying?
Cultural historian Saidiya Hartman, in her trailblazing monograph Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-making in Nineteenth Century America, looks at the Black codes and Freedmans’ Bureau handbooks to illuminate how postbellum America incorporated recently emancipated slaves through liberal ideologies of consent, responsibility, and culpability. The “ex-”Slave demonstrated their appreciation for emancipation through self-mastery, discipline, and hard work. After 400+ years of free labor, idleness and lethargy in the Black was shamed and eschewed as “the body no longer harnessed by chains or governed by the whip was instead tethered by the weight of conscience, duty, and obligation,” writes Hartman. In a constant performance of ethical sophistication and proper conduct, Black bodies were ushered into a more modern regime of servitude in which they would perpetually genuflect to the behavioral dictates of the State and its White majority in always already foreclosed attempts at making good on the promises of manumission: national incorporation, sociopsychic recognition, juridical protection, and legal equality. To be irresponsible–meaning both without anything to be responsible for (property for instance) or to be accessed as negligent vis-a-vis what one is supposed to be responsible with (personhood and other persons)–was to be unfit for freedom.
Under these on-going conditions, the Blackqueer remains precluded from recognizably responsible behavior at least insofar as Blackqueerness yet marks the racially abject and sexually deviant imposition on and threat to the very notion of the public and every concept of the proper, good, and socially acceptable on which it relies. Stuart Hall’s Policing the Crisis, Michael Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics, and Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments come into chorus beautifully on this point. Blackqueer responsibility is a misnomer because Blackqueer propriety is impossible. As Hartman further advised in 1997, the Blackqueer is the constitutive outside of citizen-subjectivity, or the Blackqueer is only a political subject to the extent to which it is criminally culpable. The Blackqueer capacity for responsibility, within a legico-juridical order to which it has no place or legitimate claim, is always a precondition for Blackqueer criminality.
The Blackqueer is ontologically ir/responsible: at once, made to be responsible for their own bio-political damnation and irresponsible with their ever-pending redemption. “Sin is Negro as virtue is white,” writes Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks. “All those white men in a group, guns in their hands, cannot be wrong. I am guilty. I do not know of what, but I know that I am no good.”
What might it mean to understand Blackqueerness as the refusal of the politics of the proper? What if the politic of Blackqueerness is to dispossess itself of the proper, which is to say the appropriate and the “responsible”, which is to say place and/in state? Can we look at the refusal to be withheld from each other as that dispossessory politic? Maybe getting together is the only or originary politic of the dispossessed; those dispossessed, first, of the very possibility to get together. If what poet-philosopher Fred Moten reminds us is true, if “we get together to fight,” can we see within all the fighting, the “fighting to maintain our capacity to get together”? Must we be responsible for the conditions that coproduce our constriction and our ecstasy? Whither might Blackqueer rage and release be permitted? What would it look like to shift the penologic of responsibility back on the “authors of devastation,” whose “innocence,” Baldwin tells us “constitutes the crime.”
Before the U.S. government decided to rescue Wall Street from COVID-induced collapse, it refused to democratize access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis while defunding the Global Fund to Fight AIDS. Blackqueer people, particularly in Atlanta, have long occupied a state of [non-]emergency, with nothing to show for it besides a well-lit stadium and a Mayor with Bottoms for a last name. Therefore, when we ask Blackqueer people to be “responsible” for their contribution to the pandemic, be held accountable for COVID’s role in community, we must first ask how “responsibility” itself is a request for a comportment that consents to the current medico-juridical paradigm that engineers Blackqueer death–both, premature and belated. Blackqueer riskiness, ethical irresponsibility, was not why HIV/AIDS became an epidemic and, in the same way, it will not be why COVID-19 never loosens its grip. A government that capitalizes off of catastrophe; that chooses profits over people; who–right before entering a $1.95 Billion deal with Pharmaceutical company Pfizer and biotechnology company BioNTech, a $2.1 billion deal with French pharmaceutical company Sanofi and British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline–allowed the ban on evictions to expire, permitted schools to reopen, began disseminating “back to work” plans, and “phasing-out” travel restrictions: the U.S. government will always, in every instance, be responsible for the rise of coronavirus and its asymmetrical presence in Blackqueer and poor communities.
Furthermore, if to be Blackqueer is to lose the right to one’s own body or the right to own one’s body; if Blackqueer bodies are always “public texts”, as Karla Holloway might suggest, then we must take into our analysis how Blackqueerness has been written into the general political body, the hegemonic commonsense, the collective unconscious as, in itself, a biological threat, as negrophobogenic as Fanon later puts it, as sheer pathogen. This discursive-material conceptualization–Blackqueer systematic vulnerability to disease/death conterminous with disease/death as the universal sign of Blackqueerness—rebuffs performative concealment or “proper posture”. There is nothing the Blackqueer person can do to not be a figure of epidemiological scandal. The Blackqueer is the ghost of every pandemic. The Blackqueer occupies the political role of bioterrorist, in advance. Borrowing a Hartmanian locution: this is what it means to live as the afterlife of HIV.
Still there is the very real risk of acquiring (and dying by) COVID. The lives of Blackqueer folks, disproportionately immunocompromised and/as disabled, hang in the balance. Their vulnerability to death seems eclipsed–as it is already more generally–by an intracommunal propensity to play with precarity. There is no question that a dearth in political attention to the Blackqueer disabled structures Blackqueer responses (or lack thereof) to the pandemic. Yet, I want to suggest that play can also be a Blackqueer disabled response. I want to suggest that Blackqueer disabled folks attended Atlanta Black Pride, against their best self-interest and though it might not be an ethics to universalize, it is not a politic to minimize. Amidst the ongoing War on AIDS, Blackqueer lifeworlds–crowded nightclubs, dilapidated bathhouses, un/protected penetrations—become articulations of summers refusing to be stolen, bodies refusing to behave, backs going unbent. Blackqueer folks–disabled and otherwise–engage in risk irreducible to the apolitical or asinine. There is a politics present in Blackqueer folks’ refusal of the ways precarity precludes play. If we think about the war on AIDS as war on the Blackqueer disabled/immunocompromised, how might Blackqueer disability always entail the negotiations of play and precarity; how might those negotiations proliferate to unforeseen, counterintuitive and counterproductive ends? A politics of Blackqueer commons might also look like where touch persisted, when pleasure insisted under the pressure of pandemic and antiBlack public, especially as the difference loses all distinction, especially since “we have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Twitter Reacts to BlackLoveDoc’s Shortage of Dark Skinned Women in Promotional Video
#BlackLoveDoc returns to OWN on September 5th, and they’re being dragged through the Twitterverse because of their promotional video, which dark-skinned women are largely unaccounted for.
If you’re unfamiliar with what #BlackLoveDoc is, it’s a docuseries where a collection of black couples—queer and hetero—have discussions about love on camera.
The promotional video sparked a debate about colorism. One Twitter user replied, “When I say that ‘Black love’ is nothing more than a lie this is what I mean. The women had to pass a paper bag test to even get the so-called ‘Black love.’ This is why I’m [a] firm believer in Black women opening their options and dating the right person for them regardless of race.”
Whoever runs #BlackLoveDoc’s Twitter account, probably Gayle King, replied: “Hey Ella! We agree. This is why we show Black men and women of all shades in loving relationships – we even show them in relationships with someone who isn’t Black Flushed face And some folks are mad. It sucks. But we [still] show US being loved. Because that’s what matters.”
Bad response to being called out for colorism. Surely a billionaire like Oprah can afford better social media editors and public relations training for her staff.
Enjoy these tweets of #BlackLoveDoc’s promo getting dragged:
Cori Bush Snatches The Missouri Primary From 19-year Incumbent William Lacy Clay
A little positive political news is coming our way. Cori Bush, who’s running for Congress in Missouri has snatched the primary vote from Lacy Clay, who has held the seat for 19 years. For the past 50 years, the Clay family has held the seat. Today, Cori ends that streak.
Of importance is that Cori is not only a Black woman, but one of the better-known organizers for Black Lives Matter. The Congressional Black Caucus was very vocal about their disapproval of her “radical” stances, but it seems their clucking has meant absolutely nothing to the final result. She punctuated her victory with a simple tweet:
Boom! Haha. Ya girl has sass. I’ll remind you all that she was one of those protesting for our lives at Ferguson and has lead her public life with a raised fist ever since.