Category Archives: race

4/20’s new meaning

Giana Floyd, George Floyd’s daughter

From now on 4/20 will live on not just as a day to celebrate pot but as a day to remember that a murderous cop was held to account.

I cried when I heard that the jury found Chauvin guilty on all three counts. A choking ugly cry. Gasping.

While I know this is not the end of the war (Al Sharpton) and that the verdict was only possible because it was captured on video, seen the world over, followed by a year of protests and the collapse of the blue wall (Jason Johnson), I want to breathe the relief of a decision well made.

Yes. Yes we get how broken we are that the outcome was not certain here. But let me exhale with gratitude.

Thank you jurors! Thank you “bouquet of humanity” aka witnesses who took the stand! Thank you remarkable prosecution team! Thank you protestors! Thank you cops who took the stand and spoke the truth!

Tomorrow I will lament the fifteen year old girl who was shot yesterday. Tomorrow I will share my outrage at how swiftly Republicans are seeking to outlaw filming police and protests but today: relief.

I shared this 53 second video over on Instagram but I’ll share it here, too. Synchronicity turned the Vogue model’s outstretched arms into something reminiscent of a prone, injured body as the day went on. Unintended but fitting.

A Shithole Country

Let’s dispense with notions of race. Not as in “I don’t see color,” but as in “your color will not matter if I am a cop and holding a gun that I claim to’ve believed was a taser” and OOPS!

Can’t we just arrest these killers on the spot? Forget suspension with pay or firing them or forming a commission or building a case against the police unions. Let murderers be treated like murderers.

The slamming down and winking out of a Black man’s life is one damnation. The slow-walked consequences constitute a second damnation.

Everyone knows that if the murderer just down the road is acquitted not just one cheap-ass Dollar Store will burn, but all of Minneapolis.

Notions of race have changed. They are at once fluid and rigid. Italians used to be considered “colored,” Catholicism was outlawed. Jews, no matter their designated race, have never managed to get ahead of those who would hunt them down and exterminate them.

Exterminate is a word that intentionally calls to mind vermin, rats. And Jews. Don’t say “Jew” if you’re not Jewish. It too easily glides into insult. Listen to this or that white supremacist refer to 1/4 of the American populous as “the blacks.”

Why can’t we eradicate the haters? The bearded, insecure, gun-toting white men who by most counts seem hell-bent on destroying the America they claim to love? They carry illusion in one pocket, grievance in another, and make violent scapegoating their mission.

Let seditionists be tried for sedition! Charging an insurrectionist with trespass is a little like charging Rockwell Inc. with trespass when clouds of plutonium smoke from its bomb factory poisoned entire neighborhoods south of Denver.

But, the Colorado courts wondered, can the plaintiffs make out a case even for trespass when it’s so hard to quantify the harm? Even if the impossibility of quantifying the harm is because its magnitude is nearly unimaginable? (let me insert here that the half life of plutonium is 240,000 years and that a particle the size of the head of a pin, when breathed in, will kill).

But the residents near Rocky Flats knew. The ‘downwind scars’ from thyroid removal so prevalent as to earn that cute nickname, children dying of weird cancers, calves born deformed. It’s a little like how an entire zip code of Black people in Ohio knew they were descended from Thomas Jefferson for several generations in advance of DNA proof.

But I digress. One man yells, “This is the people’s house!” Then another. Then a chorus. I want to yell back, “And these are the people’s laws!”

Meanwhile, how is it possible that the biggest seditionist of them all is waltzing around, golfing, disrupting weddings, drinking Coke while calling for its boycott, and spouting the Big Lie, still?

Inversion of truth has a way of wearing people down. Tell me again why a Dollar Store should matter more than a Black man’s life? Tell me again why the tanks and armor and gas and shields and vests and guns and batons and more gas arrived in force instantly at a crowd protesting injustice but did not manage to show up at a full fledged riot at the Capitol. Or why the men who threatened to kidnap and kill the Governor of Michigan did not end up being convicted. Of anything.

We all remember Dylan Roof’s post-massacre cheeseburger or the near-high fives the police gave Kyle Rittenhouse.

The curfew is a catch-22 for Black people. Protest and you’ll be arrested NO MATTER HOW EGREGIOUS THE HARM you protest. So many catch-22’s for Black people and so many with lethal consequence. Stay in your car, you’ll be shot. Get out of your car, you’ll be shot.

All those who plea for Black obedience have not been paying attention. Half of the men on the Hill frame grievance along racial lines, with utter disregard for the facts, for the Constitution, for actual history. It’s truly sickening.

Vote Them Out, rings hollow when voting rights are being gutted. All those good guys swearing they’ll wait a hundred hours in line or those others saying they’ll risk arrest to bring water and pizza to voters, seem not to have read the part about the legislature now being empowered to overturn elections.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how many well-meaning allies show up with water or how many patriotic Black voters wait eons to exercise their constitutional right, the Georgia GOP can change the result. Poof! There goes Stacey Abrams’s strategy and hard work. The Republicans have enshrined into law what the Orange Menace tried to do in November with his pathetic election-tampering phone call.

They fired the guy who taped that illegal call, I don’t need to tell you.

Even with my pale and privleged ass, I’m really tired of this shit.

The through-line from slave patrollers to current policing is direct. They basically killed first, asked questions after.

There was so much extra-judicial killing of slaves in South Carolina that the Slave Code of 1740 tried to put in some limits. Imagine, even as the Assembly imposed one onerous restriction after another on the enslaved, they put the brakes on the slave patrollers. Why? Because they were costing the elite planters too much money, damaging their investments, etc.

An owner, of course, could kill one of his slaves for any reason at any time. Also, if a black person struck a white person, they would’ve been condemned to death, if not killed on the spot. But patrollers out for blood or maybe for bounties, had to be reigned in. The average healthy male African cost the equivalent of $18 to $26,000. The price of a very good used car.

White colonial governance pitted Natives against each other to help finish what small pox started. They also had no problem situating — there’s a word — various tribes further inland — west of the Edisto River, say — as long as said placements — there’s another word — didn’t occupy land where rice would grow. But wait! If a slave ran away, it was common for the aggrieved owner to hire a Native tracker to bring the enslaved back. No one knew the landscape better than the Natives! Here’s a musket!

But if not hiring a Chocktaw to find a runaway from Gambia, say, the fancy second sons from England and France might have captured a passel of the so-called red skins to sell as slaves to sugar planters in the West Indies. It didn’t pay to keep them around — Natives were too adept at melting into the scrub to make them a sound investment.

But, keeping at least one Indian on register was considered good sense, since it was believed that mixing Native with African blood would produce offspring better able to withstand winters.

For no rational reason that I’ve ever come across, Natives on the auction blocks in Barbados or Antigua fetched lower prices than Black captives. Perhaps it had to do with how theories on race were gaining traction — solidifying — theories that said that the black-skinned were particularly suited to hard labor and that their owners did them enormous favors by offering them such opportunities, etc.

Because I’m not Black or Jewish or Asian, I cannot begin to imagine what it is to receive the hate and the threats that are such common currency in this country. But I AM tired of it all. Hypocrisy, the violence, the fake patriotism, molasses-paced consequences, the unraveling of truth as something that should matter.

Let me end with one piece of good news and a prayer.

The good news: Fani Willis did not pursue felony charges against the young legislator who knocked on the door where Kemp and his cronies signed the voter suppression law.

The supplication: I pray that the Chauvin jury does the right thing. Please, please, convict the motherfucker. There’s been enough damage done.

* sorry I don’t have an attribution for the protest photo.

A really good ongoing critique of policing can be found here:

I recently learned about Rocky Flats by reading this really good memoir:

Insomniac’s Rabbit Hole

When I wasn’t asleep at midnight, I started reading twitter (don’t @ me). The comedian Bill Burr’s opening on SNL was getting a lot of commentary. A lot. So when I still wasn’t asleep an hour later, I came down and watched it.

Source of controversy: his criticisms of white women.

The failure to acknowledge how we benefit from white supremacy. The way we take over social justice movements and want credit for being “woke” when we are anything but. (Even using the word “woke” for ourselves being, of course, an offense.) Our Gucci boots (huh?)

One prominent Black woman I follow declared it hilarious (Roxane Gay @rgay). Another noted that you could practically recite his reading list based on it. Tressie McMillan Cottom pointed out his Black wife.

White women in the comments were attacked for taking offense and further, the offense was offered up as proof of the validity of Burr’s critique. And of course, to complain about this would be centering the conversation on white women’s feelings. Instead of, I don’t know, having an opinion?

Here’s the thing. I don’t take issue with his observations about white women. At all. Our history speaks for itself, particularly our relationships to and within political circles. Pretty bad.

We were all reminded of this recently during the look backs at Suffrage — an ignominious chapter of activism when white women excluded Black women from leadership roles and from the very goal of achieving the vote. The decision to segregate a Suffrage parade in DC was particularly cringe-worthy.

Wells-Barnett had no intention of abiding by the rules segregating the parade. She stood on the sidelines until the marchers from Chicago passed, then fearlessly, she stepped to the front of the procession.

The Washington Post, August 2020

But this?

I just didn’t find it funny. I don’t need to compare him to either Louis CK or Dave Chappelle to back up a claim of tone deafness or even assert tone deafness. I just didn’t think it was funny.

And I’ll go one step further and assert this: my not finding it funny says jack all about where I land on the ally-spectrum.

What WAS hilarious was Burr’s take on Bostonians in a faux Sam Adams ad.

After a hike in the Middlesex Fells and a nap under my weighted blanket, I feel restored!

Books, read and unread

“Wilkerson’s book is about how brutal misperceptions about race have disfigured the American experiment.”

NY Times, review

“She observes that caste ‘is about respect, authority and assumptions of competence — who is accorded these and who is not.‘”

And:

“A caste system, she writes, is ‘an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning.‘”

In an interview with Teri Gross, Wilkerson called caste the bones and race the skin. Class is the clothing and accessories.

Racism cannot completely capture all that is wrong in our society, she says.

She uses Nazism and the caste system in India to explore the American version.

In the interview, I learned how much the Aryans relied on early American studies in eugenics to develop their theories on race. Here in the States, the “one drop rule” was adopted in order to keep mixed race offspring enslaved. Interestingly, such a construct was deemed too extreme by the Germans.

The book doesn’t cover South Africa but in the interview Wilkerson briefly discusses how the fact that Blacks were in the majority in South Africa led to the creation of a third category ofcoloreds.” This was designed to keep Black Africans out of power. I wondered about that when reading Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood, which is by the way, a compelling and intimate look at the last days of apartheid.

I am still reading three important books on race, but Caste will be up next. I ordered it from an independent bookseller in the Bronx: The Lit. Bar. If you can afford the postage, I recommend that you do too. They raise money for other independent book stores.

Part of why I haven’t finished the non-fiction books on my night stand is because of my preference for fiction.

This novel looks at the issue of colorism through the lens of identical twins who are light enough to pass for white. One makes the decision to do so and vanishes from her twin’s life while the other makes an opposite decision by having a child with a very dark Black man. The idea of erasure and transformation is further explored through a transgender character.

Desiree and Stella Vignes were once inseparable, fleeing their small southern town to build a life together in New Orleans. But when Stella makes the decision to pass as white—disappearing from her sister’s life in order to pursue the “American Dream” of whiteness—the twins’ paths diverge, determining not just their own futures, but the futures of their daughters and their relationship to Black womanhood. As the sisters mature into mothers and their daughters into adulthood, each woman must confront her own relationship to her past, to family duty, and to her own autonomy.

From Taylor Crumpton’s Book of the Month review.

Lest you find me too serious, let me admit in closing that my new guilty pleasure is a reality show called, Blown Away. It’s a glass blowing competition that fills the void left by The Great British Baking Show.

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down

A spoken work with references to the nursery rhyme, Ring Around the Rosie, and to ideas put forth by Resmaa Menakem in a recent interview with Krista Tippet, On Being. See references, below.

Ring around the plaza
an eye socket full of gas
the corner goes up in flames.
Ashes, ashes, we all
rise up.

Ring around the Big House
pocketful of protests.
The fence becomes a meme
demanding justice.
Ashes ashes, we all
fall down and weep.

Ring around the house of worship
pockets emptied of protection.
The Reverend’s voice rings to
the rafters of the nation:
“Because you held a
knee to our neck.”

Ring around the Rosie
a reference to a rash
pockets full of posies
those nosegays believed to
protect against the plague.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down
as cases spike, the bodies
that cannot breathe, numerous.

Ring around the wrist or the waist
We wear our slogans proudly
as if our purchasing history
might changed the damage done
over centuries.
Free Shipping! Black Lives Matter!

Ring up the purchases, fast and
furious, for its not all
pat and full of pride. The
esteemed list of best sellers
goes nearly fully to educating
white people about the ills of
our body, our white body,
holding down the Black body
for 14 generations.

‘Performative’ sneers a neighbor
‘a buzzword,’ she demeans,
then puts “micro-aggression”
in quotes, nearly begging
to be challenged in a post
decrying white women
challenging each other.

We could argue. I could be
right and she wrong, or
I could be obnoxious and she right
and none of it would matter since
it all happens from the
neck up and slightly to the left.*

What if justice with a
capital ‘J” arises from a
place located just below
the navel?

What if it’s a problem
niceness can’t nice us
out of? And policy can’t
strategize us out of?*

I’m reminded of the brief
time in one of my toddler’s
lives, when he went
around disagreeing with
everyone. “You are
UNcorrect,” he’d scold.

Neighbor, fellow white
progressive, you are
UNcorrect. Hook up the
laugh track or better yet join hands and
spin and spin and spin until
the world blurs into horizontal
stripes and when we all fall
down, the world tilts and
makes us woozy — a
full body sense of disorientation,
a visceral impression
of losing hold of our
ingrained reliable perspectives —
even gravity unfamiliar.
A falling down
that might unhinge us
enough to fully rise up.

No nosegays for protection,
no signs of disease
breaking out, but an

embodied redirection
a skeletal curiosity
a human openness lacking
historic reference to white
supremacy except as
a check and a check again —
a hand out held for a
less insular dance
maybe even a fever pitch
celebratory hallelujah
where race matters as
culture but not as an
up or down measure.

Ring around the Rosie,
a Juneteenth dance,
a July 4th dance.
Post pandemic, Post
Tulsa, Watts, Rodney King,
post slavery, reconstruction, Jim
Crow, red lining, post foul brew
of leadership that slinks
from low point to low point.

Some of this will be over
soon, right?

We’ve burned it all down
before — ashes, ashes —
but could this be
the real time, the call
forward, even if the dance goes to
our death — yes — since all
dances go there — but
with real hand holding
in a dance of falling down? Alive.

The wind blows today.
Maybe it brings hope.

 

* * *

*in his now famous TED talk about education, Sir Kenneth Robinson talks about how most of academia is aimed to an area “above the neck and slightly to the left,” and that this is one of its greatest weaknesses.

* Reverend Al Sharpton’s eulogy for George Floyd was powerful and moving.

* Resmaa Menakem studies how trauma is stored in the body.
In his recent interview with Krista Tippet (On Being podcast), he criticizes white anti-racism efforts for relying on strategy and policies, instead of on culture. He also says that ‘white niceness is inadequate to deal with the level of brutality inflicted on black bodies.’ He asserts that the ‘real battlefield is inside our bodies and therefore the conflicts need to be resolved there.’

 

PS This post took almost two hours. ARRRRRRRRRRG! WP would not upload a 5M video from my iPad. I kept trying. Then, it also wouldn’t upload a draft to my phone (I usually bounce back and forth). So then I said, screw it, I’ll just publish and keep revising. So then I made a voice memo, forgetting how I uploaded it last time, then researching and remembering — requires emailing it to myself and then downloading to PC and inserting as media on blog. But then (Then!), I could not access WP Admin on PC, at which point I moved from a barely contained fury to whimpering. I had to google how to access admin, which took a bunch of tries, and then, when I tried to sign in, I apparently had the wrong PW, no re-assign PW link showed up in my email and then (Then!) they told me my account was closed and if I thought it in error to tap link where they wanted three pieces of info — none of which I had. I backed out and started again and just for fun input what I THOUGHT my PW was, just to see what the fuckers would say, and sure enough: “PW was used ‘too recently.'” YOU MEAN IT WAS MY PASSWORD? So now I have a PW that starts ‘youfuckingpieceofshit’. But I got my poem up!