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Ring the Alarm – I Am Not Going Back.

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I am a heterosexual, black woman, who has never served a day in the military.  I have two uncles who served, one in the Army and one in the Air Force.  At the age of 20, my uncle died as a scouter in the Vietnam War.  A 6’5” scouter died in battle.  Why was he a scouter is something I cannot answer, but I know this to be true, I was not a fan of seeing any of my college students deciding to go to the military.  I don’t want to see them die.  And in some cases, come back alive and they cannot figure out how to adjust to life.

I will not serve, but I respect those who do.  Yet, this is not a conversation about serving.  This is a conversation about equal rights and acknowledging our brothers and sisters.

You may have sat back and observed the travel ban and thought, that has nothing to do with me.  So, you didn’t care too much.

You may have sat back and heard all of the talking about building the wall.  And in fact, the House budget that passed on July 27, 2017, placed a down payment of $1.6 billion on the wall.  You may have thought, “well, I am an American, and it doesn’t apply to me.”  In fact, you may secretly agree because then you think that Americans could use those construction jobs that have largely been replaced with cheaper labor.

So, you are now sitting back again when you see the tweets about Transgenders being banned from serving in the military.  You may think that it doesn’t apply to you either.

Well, let me tell you what does apply to you – The Department of Justice feels that it is okay to discriminate against transgenders on the job.  The DOJ wants to role back any law that would go against strong Voting ID laws.  They want to suppress votes.  They do not want to prosecute cops who wrongly shoot unarmed black men.  Oh, and that NRA television ad that said it was okay to “protect” America with pointing guns to protest groups like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March will not be investigated.  We have a complete and utter racist at the helm of the DOJ who is actually doing his job.  Yet, you think it is okay to sit back.

On a sunny afternoon on July 28, 2017, we have our president who made the decision to champion police brutality in the face of the Australian who just died for calling the cops for help.  Black and Brown people are arrested at a much higher rate than any other group of people even though we are the minority, and our president wants the DOJ to role back laws that protect anyone who interacts with the police.  So, if you have an encounter with an officer, that officer is the judge and jury – and the federal government supports that. Yet, again, you think this has nothing to do with you yet.

Let us learn from history.  Hitler did not come to the Jews first.  He came from groups that he thought were commonly despised.  He went after the gypsies.  He went after gays and lesbians.  He went after people of color.  The Jews were the last group because there was no one else left to stand up for them.

Trump is not Hitler, but Trump will make America Great Again.  We know what decade that America was great – pre 1954 (the year Brown v. Board of Education passed that integrated public schools).  How was your demographic of people before 1954?  My demographic of people lived in a segregated town.  They were in the back of the bus.  They didn’t go to the movies.  They refused to go to the back of the diner for food.  I could go on, but I will not.

 

I will not sit by and let my brother and sister lose today.  I know that going after 15,000 people is small for them, and it may be small for you.  But, this is only the beginning.  Oh, and I am not going back to 1953.

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From Segregation to Gentrification – Same Racism, Different Decade

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Before we called it gentrification, we called it plain ole’ segregation, you know, separate and supposedly equal. Gentrification is basically white people snatching back the neighborhoods they forced us to live in. From Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement, public officials created policies and supported practices that made it socially acceptable and legal to maintain racial segregation in neighborhoods. Through exclusionary lending practices, local customs, and angry white folks, black and brown people were excluded from certain communities and relegated to live in neighborhoods with little to no resources. However, as black people often do, we made a way out of nothing, and we turned these neighborhoods into our own cultural enclaves, which made them even more enticing to some white folks. But, since it was primarily black and brown people living in those racially segregated neighborhoods, property (for non-blacks mostly) was selling for the cheap, cheap. Once developers purchased the property for the low, they renovated it to make it pleasing for a certain “class” of people. Then, when a good number of that “class” of people moved in, they opened up these cute little tapas bars and specialty coffee shops and micro-brewery pubs because, you know, this new “class” of people need somewhere to go. They can’t go to the corner liquor store or the corner Chinese food store with the glass partition or the greasy carryout that has no tables or chairs. God forbid.

 

And guess what happens next – now they want everything, including the homes black families have lived in for years, but they can’t just burn a cross on your front lawn like they did in the past, they have to be a little sneakier about it. Plus, we do have these federal laws which supposedly protect people from discrimination and reduce overt racial exclusion. Instead, the practice of racial segregation and exclusion are cloaked in the push for redevelopment, historical preservation, and community transformation. Gentrification is absolutely about exclusion, which encompasses segregation but points to more sinister methods to keep people of color racially isolated and disenfranchised.

 

 

Fifty-two years ago, my mother’s family was the first family to integrate an all-white neighborhood. This would be my mother’s first home as they previously lived in public housing in D.C., so you can imagine my mother and her siblings were excited. On move-in day, they walk into their new home to find it completely trashed. Evidently, the previous owners, knowing a black family was moving in, spent their last days in the home kicking holes in the wall, tossing beer and soda bottles everything, and emptying bags of trash all through the home, which my mother and her family were tasked with cleaning up. Can you imagine being 12-years-old and walking into your family’s first home to find it trashed for no other reason than you are black? Can you imagine how my grandmother and grandfather felt, who both fled South Carolina in the 1930s to have a better life in the north? Anyway, you know the rest of the story — all the whites eventually fled, all the blacks moved in, the neighborhood fell apart when crack swept through the area in the late 80s, the neighborhood pretty much remained depressed throughout the 90s and early 2000s. Now, in 2018, the whites are back, and homes are worth half a million dollars. Funny how life happens, right?

 

When I purchased my home two years ago in Baltimore City, I knew I was moving into a neighborhood that was transitioning. When I moved in, there were several vacant homes, and there were some random gun shots, some burglaries and some vandalized cars — all the regular crimes that come with neighborhood disinvestment.

 

Before we called it gentrification, we called it plain ole’ segregation, you know, separate and supposedly equal. Gentrification is basically white people snatching back the neighborhoods they forced us to live in. Click To Tweet

 

Two years later, my home is worth about $30,000 more than what I paid for it. The reason my home has increased in value is because all those vacant homes are now full of new young, white couples and their cute little dogs and their dainty little smart cars. Along with my new white neighbors, there’s also been a heavy police presence. I can’t walk my own dog more than 2 or 3 blocks without seeing an officer on foot or in his car patrolling the community. We have all these nifty little amenities too, the field that was overgrown is not mowed regularly and has become an impromptu dog park. The block behind me (which only has 1 black family that still lives there) even gets their street swept weekly. The additional city services are all a byproduct of the neighborhood’s gentrification and since I live here, I get to take advantage of it too, right? Well, maybe.

 

 

The problem is, every single time I leave my home, I am filled with anxiety. Why?  Because a few weeks ago, a white woman called the police on a black family having a barbecue in the same public park they’d been barbecuing in for damn near 20 years. The white woman decided those people didn’t belong in her newly gentrified neighborhood and called the police. And then three black women were detained by several officers as they were leaving the Air BnB home they rented in a white neighborhood because they didn’t smile and wave at the neighbor. I also don’t smile and wave at my neighbors. And before that, a 22-year old was shot dead by police officers in his grandparents’ backyard because the cell phone in his hand was mistaken for a weapon. And then before that, a 12-year old boy was shot dead by police officers while he was playing in a park. It goes on and on and on. Maybe my white neighbors are different. Maybe they are good, culturally competent people, but I can’t tell who’s who just like the police can’t tell a gun from a cell phone.

 

White people have been allowed to use fear as an excuse for their racist behavior for too long. And yes, we know that some of it is about how black and brown people are portrayed in media, but most of it is about the fact that white people absolutely believe they are the only ones that deserve rights, freedom, guns, anger, wealth, and peace. They really are like that insolent, only child yelling ‘mine’ every time you touch one of “their” things. And what makes it worse is that the police, regardless of race, seem to go along with it.

White people, if you’re scared, go to church…but wait, isn’t that where all this fear originated?

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Janelle Monáe, Donald Glover, and the Exclusivity of Black Genius

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On April 27, Janelle Monáe released her latest project, Dirty Computer. Through it, the femdroid allows the listener to enter into a new realm of immovable and robust queerness, autonomy, and joy. With trans-inclusive songs about the triumph of love like Pynk; sexy and provocative songs like Make Me Feel; songs which demand space for Black women’s agency and independence like Django Jane; and songs which detail the complexities of her humanity like I Like That, Monáe finds a way to encapsulate the fullness of her blackness without ever trivializing or commodifying Black Death.

 

The same cannot be said for Donald Glover.

Childish Gambino//This Is America

On May 6, Donald Glover—also known as Childish Gambino—released a song and visual titled This is America, where he raps about what it looks like to exist as a Black American in this current political climate.

As Gambino dances through the warehouse, in a chair sits a Black man playing the guitar. In one moment, you can see his face; in the next, his head is covered and, without warning, Gambino takes a gun and shoots him in the back of the head. The artist continues to dance through this empty warehouse, accompanied by young Black kids, as chaos ensues around him. After he finishes one of his dance takes, the camera pans to the inside of what is supposed to represent a Black church, specifically Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church—the historic church in Charleston, SC which also serves as the site for the murder of nine members at the hands of Dylann Roof. Gambino dances into the church as the choir sings. Then, for the second time, without warning, he opens fire on the entire choir. After both of these shootings, Gambino places the firearms neatly in a red cloth. I surmise that the red represents the blood of Black people and the care with which he handles the guns is intended to provide a visual for how little Black lives matter in America and how much guns matter to America.

It has been argued that This is America was intended to be a critique to/of Black people; as a way to say that we have long ignored, or turned away from, the chaos around us, using pop culture as an escape. It has also been argued that This is America was a message to white people as an attempt to engage their “moral consciousness”; to draw attention to the plight of Black American people. I am positing that, irrespective of who the intended audience was, Gambino’s commodification of Black Death was irresponsible and not impactful.

Since our very existence in America, Black people have resisted. We resisted the Transatlantic Slave Trade and enslavement through jumping ship, revolting, and building pathways which would lead to the freedom of tens of thousands of enslaved people; we resisted Jim Crow by demanding and carving out space which we were told could never be ours. We’ve resisted through the art and music of the Harlem Renaissance; we’ve resisted through Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA); we’ve resisted through the Montgomery Bus Boycott; through the sit-in era and the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); through the March on Selma; through the rise of the Black Panther Party and other armed-resistance movements; and today we continue in the tradition of radical Black resistance through anti-mass incarceration and police movements. And through each of these eras—through each moment of resistance—Black people have found ways to laugh, to love, to heal, to carry on in the face of adversity; not as a form of distraction, but as a form of self-preservation.

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This remains true even if his intended audience is white. However, whiteness has no moral consciousness because whiteness is always already immoral. The very existence of whiteness is what makes room for anti-Black violences, for gun violence, for America to look the way that Gambino depicted it in his video. And since much of Gambino’s audience is white, and we exist under anti-Black capitalism, I’d argue that there is no way to produce content on his level without it being consumed by white people. Due to this, serving up Black Pain and Black Death on a silver platter as to appeal to the nonexisting consciousness of whiteness is counterproductive and only trivializes our trauma.

In 2014, after the months-long resistance in Ferguson that sparked a new wave of community organizing, organizers across the country did what we called die-ins as direct action. That soon transitioned out of our liberation toolkit, however, because it was more harmful than it was helpful. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, there was rarely ever a moment where one couldn’t turn on the news and see a slain Black body. Because of this, at least in Atlanta organizing spaces, we realized that the circulation of more still, motionless Black bodies did not/could not/would not disrupt the moral unconsciousness of whiteness. Instead, it forced Black people to continue to visualize ourselves as lifeless. So, too, is this true for This is America.

In an interview discussing her compilation album, Protest Anthology, Nina Simone—an artist best known for using her love for music as a medium for her activism during the Civil Rights Movement—stated that an artist’s duty was to reflect the times. I believe that she was correct. Art, especially Black Art, has a particular and significant responsibility to insight and to amplify. Through This is America, I believe that Gambino was making an attempt to do just that. However, I do not believe that art requires us to reproduce imagery that is already inescapable. Art does not demand that we subject ourselves (and others) to the already-inescapable trauma of existing as Black in America. In the visual for Beyoncé’s Formation, she makes a similar critique of America through the drowning of a police car in the New Orleans water and having a little Black child dance in the face of New Orleans police. While there is room to critique her display of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and what that might trigger for Katrina survivors, she never once trivialized Black Death by placing the literal murders of Black people on display in the way that Gambino does.

The ability to uplift Black women while postulating the death of the state—and not of Black people—is what's genius. It is because of this that I believe that Janelle Monáe deserves to be celebrated and uplifted as Black Genius. Click To Tweet

Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Drake, Kanye West, and Donald Glover are just a few of the names of Black cisgender, heterosexual men who rap that have been labeled as “genius.” Men whose misogyny and sexism, heterosexism and cissexism, and blatant anti-blackness have been excused and justified to preserve their status as genius while women like Janelle and Beyoncé are either overlooked or deemed overrated. This begs the question: who is Black Genius reserved for and, with Gambino’s recent video, when will space be created to broaden that definition?

Janelle Monáe//Dirty Computer

We do not have to plaster our blood on walls or lay our bodies on cold ground to discuss our blackness in America. To me, the ability to create a comprehensive album which struggles through the joys of being Black and queer while also discussing the ills of existing with those same identities in America, while never having to showcase murdered Black bodies, is what’s genius. The ability to uplift Black women while postulating the death of the state—and not of Black people—is what’s genius. It is because of this that I believe that Janelle Monáe deserves to be celebrated and uplifted as Black Genius. That this fresh project she released, which brings the intersection at which blackness and queerness meet to mainstream conversation, makes her Black Genius. Her ability to dream up entire worlds, conjuring the Black Arts Movement with her own particular twist, makes her Black Genius. There is something subversive with naming her work (and, thusly, herself) as “dirty” as a queer Black woman—three identities which have long been viewed as impure and unclean—and making it mean something that is complex and stern, yet joyous and hopeful.

I do not believe that we should pull our politic from celebrities. I believe that for as long as “Celebrity” exists, it is their job to pull from and amplify those of us whose voices are not as clearly heard. I do not believe that any true uprising will be led by The Celebrity. Said again, any real revolution must be led by poor and working-class people. The role of Celebrity—until it, too, is abolished—is to make space for those of us who are doing liberation work on the ground. However, seeing as how the term “pansexual” was the top searched word on Merriam-Webster post-release of Dirty Computer, I believe that Janelle has proven that Black Art is not reserved for cisgender, heterosexual Black men. It is for this reason that she, to me, represents Black Genius.

 

What mainstream or underground black women artists do you support?

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Black Exploitation or Art? People Aren’t Feeling Childish Gambino’s #ThisIsAmerica Video

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Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover dropped new music this weekend during his SNL appearance. The video received some nods and some started to unpack some of the meaning. Let’s just say some on Twitter were not feeling it. Take a look at his video below.

I cringed while watching some scenes but I wasn’t sure if it were just me. So I took to social media and it was lit up like 4th of July.

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Watching Childish Gambino’s new video late Saturday night took me to a place where the admission fee was black pain and my black pain isn’t for sale. I felt myself wonder what was his overall intent for the video. How many more black bodies do we have to see on the street to wake up? Honestly, the video gave me Bill Cosby ‘Pound Cake’ speech teas. Pull up your pants and pay and attention.

After watching it a second time I reached out to some friends to have a conversation about their feelings on the video. I wanted to seek some understanding and I got it.

Check out the videos below on my conversation with Jatella, Da’Shaun & Raekwon

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