Category Archives: race

Not just another day

It’s hot. “The news flattens one spirits,” is one way to put it. A neighbor uses chalk to #saytheirnames

She inspires me.

It is hot enough for the season’s first batch of gazpacho.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, a random act of kindness.

And a kitty looking Finn over as we pass.

And in case you didn’t already know that consciousness loves contrast, after a brutal catch up of the news this morning, look what greeted me to the East.

If nothing else, give

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RIP George Floyd.

A post shared by Chawne Kimber (@cauchycomplete) on

It’s heartbreaking that Chawne Kimber had cause to repost her “I can’t breathe” quilt. After nearly every comment, Kimber asked, “but what are you going to DO?” A drumbeat. A call to action. “What are you going TO DO?”

Here is a link to Minnesota Freedom Fund, which among other things, pays criminal bail for those who cannot afford to do so. I gave a little this morning.

And here is a Medium article titled, “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice.” It was written in 2017 and things have only gotten worse since then, so it’s still relevant. You could get lost for years doing the suggested reading and movie viewing. Don’t. Get a parallel course of action going.

Massachusetts has been reforming their criminal justice system in recent years, supported by a number of advocacy groups, like Citizens for Juvenile Justice. I made calls to my reps about some aspects of these efforts back in 2017 and am putting the task front and center again.

In “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander describes the devastating impacts of mandatory minimum drug sentencing and forfeiture rules. In the case of mandatory minimums, judges lost the power to consider a person’s circumstances. Sentencing that should have been calculated in months was imposed in five and ten year chunks.

When I worked for Aid to Incarcerated Mothers in the 90’s, I met inmates who had received mandatory five year sentences for possession of small amounts of drugs. Drug sales were often motivated by poverty or to support a habit. If parents, these women were almost always in danger of losing custody of their children — a secondary and devastating consequence to ridiculously long prison terms.

Alexander delineates how the forfeiture rules not only created incentives for law enforcement to grab property, it incentivized the vigorous continuation of the drug trade itself.

I’m jumping all around here, but there is a through line.

When making investments, you can either choose a socially responsible fund (an ESG investment) or have an otherwise ordinary fund apply filters. We chose Trillium as our ESG fund and applied the filters of fossil fuels and private prison corporations to others.

Privatization of the prison system creates incentives for keeping incarceration numbers high. More bodies equals more profits. ICE has been housing people in private prisons as well.

While I’m not sure that I fall all the way on the side of prison abolition, I most definitely want the racist and other inhumane policies to undergo reform. Our numbers are beyond shocking.

In closing let me say how gratifying it was to watch Amy Cooper go down in real time. From “twitter do your thing,” to her identity being posted within hours, to her voluntary surrender of her dog before sundown, her termination from Templeton Franklin the next day, and finally, her being banned from Central Park. She went full Donham* and deserved every bit of it.

*Woman who cried rape and effectively killed Emmett Till. She recanted a couple of years ago.

This quilt is from my Middle Passage series.

What counts as good news

Maddow on pause because I just can’t take anymore right now. And you know, it’s not just the onslaught of breaking, awful news, it’s also (and this happens frequently), the disorientation that arises when a big scoop turns out to be something we’ve heard before, maybe even more than once and often over a year ago (recent example, David Farenthold’s Washington Post story on trump’s hypocritical dependence on immigrants without legal status at his various businesses).*

Before pausing the news just now, I learned the identity of this MAGA-hat guy that I used on a SoulCollage card as a stand-in for the rot that trump has exposed. Turns out he’s the worst of the worst. He’s Andrew Anglin, founder of the Daily Stormer website, terrorist extraordinaire. He was one of the organizers of the Charlottesville protest two years ago. He’s a Holocaust denier who advocates Jewish genocide and has an army of like-minded white nationalists at his disposal. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls him “a prolific Internet troll and serial harasser.”

Well — judges in three recent high profile cases have awarded Anglin’s victims damages.

If you remember, these are the kinds of law suits that the Southern Poverty Law Center filed to good effect against klansman years ago.

The imposition of damages on white nationalists and their organizations counts as GOOD NEWS, particularly since we now know that the Department of Justice cannot be relied upon any longer to do the right thing (the legal, moral thing). As long as these cases come before judges appointed in the pre-trump era, we can hope for more satisfying outcomes.

* in reading the Washington Post piece this morning, I can appreciate what’s hopeful there, too, actually.

In a world where Democrats are slow-walking the impeachment process, we can look to state courts for interim justice. They have to be courts out of the reach of AG Barr, of course, but since they are, they’re also courts not bound by the OLC memo prohibiting indictment of a sitting president AND their judgments cannot be subject to presidential pardon power. Surely state laws are being broken by not only hiring undocumented immigrants but in instructing them in where and how to get fake papers.

Meanwhile K arrived home from his 49th trip to China last night and I’m off to Western Mass. tomorrow for a writing retreat. I kinda wish I was staying home honestly.

Lastly, what good news have you to report? I’ll start: CBD oil seems to be helping with my joints!

Recent reading: An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones

Jones revealed in an interview that the idea for the characters in her fourth novel, “An American Marriage,” came to her from a conversation she overhead in a mall. She already had her theme, informed in part by a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute (Cambridge, Mass.), studying the prison pipeline and racial injustice, but not her characters.

And then she overheard a woman saying, “Roy, you know you wouldn’t have waited on me for seven years!”

Roy replies, “What’re you talking about? This wouldn’t’ve happened to you in the first place.”

“When I see two people arguing and they both seem to have a legitimate point, then I know I have a novel because for me a novel cannot have a clear person who’s right or wrong.” 

“An American Marriage” tells the story of a newlywed couple with everything to look forward to — him as a businessman, her as an art doll-maker — until the unthinkable occurs. The husband, Roy, is wrongly accused of rape. Incarcerated. What happens during the period of his imprisonment and the time immediately after his release comprise the story. The author puts before us the damning, personal consequences of racial injustice. A virulent and widespread social problem up close. She shows two people wrestling with fidelity to the IDEA of marriage, if not to marriage itself, as they try to weather an untimely and grossly unfair separation.

“To black Americans, mass incarceration is an ongoing threat, like hurricanes on the coast and earthquakes or fires in California. Prison can swoop in and snatch up the men in our families at any time.”

from interview with Oprah

This book makes a statement in its very title. It’s not, “An African American Marriage,” but “An American Marriage.” As it should be! It’s refreshing to read a narrative so wholly focused on black characters. No white saviors. No black characters served up as ancillary to the aims of white people. It’s notable that the sole white character here is a life-wrecking accuser.

To celebrate the exclusivity of black characters might seem a bit remedial. But when you consider that “Green Book” just won an Oscar or that during the Cohen hearings last week, Rep. Meadows used a black woman as a prop (and then teared up in outrage when another representative called him on it), it seems not so small a point.

A fast and compelling read. I see why Oprah chose it for her Book Club.

NY Times review

Just to continue a moment on another issue the book puts before us: the use someone else’s pain as the basis for artwork. The doll making character’s career doesn’t really take off until she starts using her imprisoned husband as inspiration. It was interesting to consider the problem of appropriation stripped of the complication of race. Artist-character and her subject are both black, and still we ask: Is it okay to parlay another’s pain into artwork, especially if the subject objects? And if such a use makes one successful, how should we evaluate that success?

(for the question about black pain and white creators, see, critique of Dana Schutz painting ‘Open Casket’ of Emmet Till at the Whitney Biennial in 2017 and The White Card, a play by Claudia Rankine (blogged after seeing the play here). Also, check out “Still Processing: ‘Confederate,’ ‘Detroit’ and Who Owns Stories about Blackness” podcast, featuring Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham).

 

 

 

 

History quote and Marie Kondo

“… the Fugitive Slave Act handed enslavers octopus powers, allowing their tentacles to extend to the North. The Act criminalized abettors of fugitives, provided northerners incentives to capture them, and denied Blacks a jury trial, opening the door to mass kidnappings. To William Lloyd Garrison, the act was ‘so coldblooded, so inhuman and so atrocious, that Satan himself would blush to claim paternity to it.'”

I received this book for Christmas last year. I suppose I ought to get going on it? I’ll admit to being a little intimidated by the length. The date of the Act’s passage, by the way, was 1850.

We are waiting for snow.

And watching Marie Kondo on Netflix.

I bought her book, “the life-changing magic of tidying up,” several years ago and followed many of her strategies to good effect. But here’s the thing. It was a solo venture. This time K is on board and it’s got a different feel to it, and there are different possibilities (think: tools, basement, and garage). Here are two sets of before and after pix.

Household phrase

“I WAS AN ENGLISH MAJOR! I KNOW THINGS!” (to be yelled like Billy Eichner interviewing New Yorkers on the street).

This week, that became a saying in this house.

It was a friendly thread on FB. Should we capitalize the word “enslaver,” asked someone who thinks about these things. Like “Democrat” or “Pope?”

I’m pretty sure everyone in the thread had come to grips with the idea that referring to ‘slaves’ as ‘the enslaved’ was less objectifying and worth the effort. And further, that replacing the benign, perhaps even noble, titles “planter” and “landowner” with “enslaver” in certain times and places in history was corrective. Necessary.

But with a capital ‘E’?

I played with the idea (Thomas Jefferson, President, Enslaver). Said I liked how it put the shameful next to the prestigious — right out there.

Martha set me straight. “Oh good grief,” she began. She made a condescending comment, complete with examples of usage. Went on to make a nonsensical distinction between occupations and appointments.

To my credit, I stayed in it without getting snide or contentious. I never mentioned the law degree that followed my English degree. She eventually gave up.

But now at odd moments in our house, you might hearing me loudly pronouncing: “I WAS AN ENGLISH MAJOR! I KNOW THINGS!”

Green medicine and harsh questions

Saturday. Wellesley. Green medicine.

Sunday, we saw a moving play in two acts about a conversation between a white professor at an elite private college and a black history student. It was moving. Tough to watch. Didn’t answer any questions. “The Niceties.

From the article about white playwright, Eleanor Burgess, and the play’s creation:

The imbroglio at Yale made Burgess, a former high school history teacher, realize that smart, educated, and well-meaning Americans couldn’t talk to each other about race. ‘ I started to believe that we actually disagree much more than we think we do.’

…the advantage of having the debate unfold on stage, where audience members are not taking part in the conversation directly. ‘You’re not personally being attacked, and you don’t have to think of a next thing to say. So you can actually hear the entire conversation and just let it wash over you.’

The play was set prior to the presidential election and all of us wondered how much starker the terms of the argument would’ve been today.

Questions:

Who gets to decide what perspective is important?

What role does the insistence on source documents in writing about history play in discounting the history of slavery in general and the lives of the enslaved, in particular?

Where should people in positions of power draw the First Amendment line when it comes to triggering images and content?

What would happen if professors were more open to the strengths of millennials (and less reflexively dismissive)?

If saying “sorry” isn’t enough in the wake of a problematic encounter, what sorts of reparations are?

Should change be approached incrementally or in dramatic sweeps? And, who decides?

What actual supports do students of color need and deserve on college campuses, particularly bastions of privilege like the ivy leagues.

(The role these institutions play in perpetuating a closed loop of power is particularly on display this week with the Kavanaugh revelations).

Back to work.

PS is it weird that all four of us who watched the play think that Kavanaugh will be appointed and yet nevertheless find the many ways that protest and pushback are having an effect in real time, inspiring?