Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Activism Has No Age Limit" #HandsUpWalkOut

As a young activist I met in Ferguson said, (paraphrase) "The schools should be closed and the kids should be out in the streets protesting. They aren't learning anything in school anyway and the real education is out here with us."

That seems to be an unintended consequence of state terror: people become politicized.  People all over the world are being moved to action because they see Ferguson where they live and they have reacted to the spark ignited in a small St. Louis suburb.  #FightBack #Solidarity

Report from and This Is The Movement newsletter:
"Activism Has No Age Limit On Tuesday morning, hundreds of students participated in an organized protest by walking out of their classes. The teens met and rallied in the school common area before walking out of the buildings and marching in protest." 


ST. LOUIS COUNTY - Students at all three high schools in the Ferguson-Florissant School District walked out of class Tuesday morning to protest the decision by the grand jury to not indict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown.
Jana Short, a spokesperson for district, says at 8:15 a.m. approximately 300 to 400 students from McCluer and 150 to 200 students from McCluer North held peaceful demonstrations.

From @LSUReveilleNow
Short says students from McCluer North gathered on the high school's track and walked to the James J. Eagan Center across the street. She says police blocked traffic to make sure students crossed the road safely. A short time later they walked back to the school and most went back to class.
Approximately 200 McCluer students walked to McCluer North and gathered on the parking lot to continue demonstrating.  Short says the school district sent buses to McCluer North to bring McCluer students back to class. She says some students didn't want to get on the buses, so they walked back with teachers.

Around 10:45 a.m. approximately 150 to 200 students from McCluer South-Berkeley High School started demonstrating and walked out of the school at 11:15 a.m. Short says they walked north along South Florissant Road. They were picked up by school buses at the Walgreens and returned to school.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Macklemore's Apology to Kendrick Lamar Includes a Twinge of White Guilt

After winning the Best New Artist and Best Rap Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards, Macklemore felt that Kendrick Lamar was more deserving of the honor(s).  A feeling he took to social media to express:
This win came on the heels of a little controversy surrounding Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and their inclusion in the rap category.  The official rap committee of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences moved to have the duo excluded from the category citing their closer ties to pop rather than rap music.  The attempt was overruled by a general Grammy committee by an overwhelming majority vote.
I think it was big of  Macklemore to express what he feels to be the truth regarding who he felt deserved the industry accolades.  
However, I would say Macklemore's seeming guilt over personally having robbed Kendrick of the honor(s) is misplaced.  He, nor Kendrick, had a choice in the matter, and more importantly had no power to decide the outcome.  An individual artist isn't at fault; it's the structure of mainstream award bodies who recognize the more consumer-friendly persona (as defined by them) than shining the spotlight on the best talent in the selection period.
Siding with one artist or the other creates a false sense of blame as opposed to fans recognizing that the most impactful artist may never be the pop/ular choice (not a typo).
In the end, neither Kendrick Lamar nor Macklemore need the validation of a group whose interest seems not to be highlighting all artists and their unique contributions, regardless of their record deal status or social acceptability. Music fans make known the artists they feel and these true fans won't have their choices decided by prime-time glam expositions.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the world..."While The World Watched Grammys; US Bombs Somalia"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Right to Bear Arms and Be Violent - Where is the Line Drawn?

Most know by now that George Zimmerman has been arrested and released, again, this time for suspicion of domestic violence involving his legally owned firearm in Seminole County, Florida.  This time the alleged victim was his live-in girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, whom Zimmerman is accused of choking and holding a rifle to her head.

According to an article linked by Jet Magazine from the Associated Press, "Zimmerman has been charged with aggravated assault, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. He also has been charged with battery and criminal mischief, both misdemeanors. An arraignment was set for Jan. 7."  He has been released on $9000 bond, has a electronic bracelet on his ankle, and has been ordered to stay away from his girlfriend, any firearms and ammo, and not to leave the state of Florida.

After he was acquitted of murder and manslaughter for the fatal shooting of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman and his ex-wife, Shellie Zimmerman, also got into a skirmish that turned physical.  This incident resulted in a 911 call where the former Mrs. Zimmerman claimed her husband was violent and had a gun.  Later, she would recant stating that he was unarmed.

As always, I have questions.  Primarily, at what point does a person who legally owns a gun have those rights suspended and even revoked when they repeatedly commit acts of violence with that gun?  This question is not about George Zimmerman specifically, but since he is in the public eye, he gives us the greatest example of the continual negative effects of wielding a legal firearm with impunity, applause, and support from a vocal segment of gun rights advocates and the judicial system.

I have my own take on gun control which is informed by my understanding of the ever-growing societal fetish of power, violence, and institutional racism & sexism.  Having said that, I am a person who is interested in one day responsibly owning a firearm and who has experience with shooting a gun.  Misconceptions and assumptions blocked.  

Another question I have is why have usually vocal gun advocates, both individuals and organizations, continued to remain silent about the gun rights of power minorities?  Where is the public, moral, and financial support from these people and organizations for victims like Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell, and for those who have been viciously criminally prosecuted for defending themselves with their legal firearm like Michael Giles and Marissa Alexander?  

It seems Zimmerman is continuing to be bankrolled for his God-given American right to [trigger warning, pun intended] commit violent acts with his legal firearms via donations from people who champion either his cause or what he represents. 

But what is it that he represents?  The reinforcement of an image of white patriarchal gun rights?  The protection of an American Constitutional right that by law was denied to women, Blacks, Native Americans, and non-citizen laborers?  I am interested in continuing these discussions with friends who are gun rights advocates and with those to are in favor of more strict gun control.  It seems that all our lives depend on finding applicable answers to these questions. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

‘Captain Phillips’ Floats Classic Racist Stereotypes of Africans

The film Captain Phillips portrays Somalis in the racist tradition of depicting African people as subhuman, wild, and without nuance.  This racist portrayal of African people has a long history in the American film and media industry.

My first memory of seeing African people portrayed on television was in Bugs Bunny cartoons.  Africans were shown as short, barefoot, wearing grass skirts, having hair like a picaninny, large pale colored lips, bugged out eyes, and mostly saying things like ‘ooga booga.’  Movies did not do a better job of portraying African people. I remember watching the 1933 version of King Kong and the 1950s version of Tarzan and seeing Africans depicted as cowardly, weak, fat, slow, and made to bear striking resemblances to monkeys.

King Kong (1933)
Caveman Inki (1939)
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)

Fast-forwarding in time, when I was in high school, I read “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, which depicted Africans as child-like savages incapable of existing without the direction of white explorers. There was a constant message being sent to me through cartoons, movies, and books that characterized people from the African continent as not quite human.

This disturbing tradition continues in the film Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks. This movie depicts the real-life 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates.  Every racialized stereotype about African people is present: Africans in the film are perpetually frightened, erratic, naive, and the old-school fall back, savage.  These characterizations are what stood out to me as I suffered through this throwback to racist stereotyping.

Captain Phillips (2013)
The Phillips character is presented early on, albeit briefly, as a loving husband, a concerned father, and a dedicated employee.  Even though Captain Phillips may not be the most sympathetic character, he is still shown as a person who has a life apart from his job. He is shown as having complexity outside his primary role in the movie.  In contrast, the Somalis are immediately and consistently shown as warlike and almost feral.  There is no abbreviated back-story for the Somalis.  Their piracy is highlighted the first time they are shown in the movie, as if their present actions encompassed all of who they were.  In short, the film dehumanizes Somalis by defining them solely by their piracy, while Captain Philips is humanized as a complex individual who needs to make hard choices to survive. 
Captain Phillips (2013)
I was so disturbed by this two plus hours of throwback racist imagery that I vented my feelings about it on social media after I left the theater.  Many people responded in agreement, saying they got the same impression just from the previews.  There were those who said they did not interpret the Somali characters that way at all. These comments included:

They hijack ships and hold people hostage. How is that not feral?
They were pirates, should they have worn funny hats and costumes?
All I know is I didn't come out of the theater thinking all Africans must be that way

More than signaling disagreement, statements like these show that people have little sense of the historic and systematic portrayal of Africans and Black people in general as bestial buffoons. Ignorance of this history in American media does not mean it does not exist.  In fact, these stereotypical racialized images of African people are easier to pass off because people are not aware of the tradition of depicting Africans and American Blacks in this manner.  The amount of eye bucking, clumsiness, and irrational animalism all seemed unnecessary but very in line with the stereotypical dehumanization of Blacks in the history of American films.  

Captain Phillips (2013)
This observation is not an indictment of the actors. I like Tom Hanks as an actor just as much as the next person.  However, this film like many others reflects a  pattern of creating caricatures of racial groups.  Racism is not just about personal feelings, but more about institutional practices or customs so ingrained in our culture that it just seems normal to depict Africans as unlike “us” as possible; as less than human.  Over time, the stereotypical depiction of racialized groups is accepted, defended, and the existence of it denied.  

If you are someone who doesn’t see it, then you may be in the position of never feeling embarrassed or insulted while witnessing a dehumanizing depiction of a group of people you share an affinity with.  See the below link for a  brief but powerful scene in the film, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, when Bruce Lee (played by Jason Scott Lee) feels uncomfortable and deeply disturbed when, while on a date with his future wife (Linda), they go and watch a film that portrays a Chinese person as a servile bumbling caricature of a human.  Most people in the theater, including Linda, are all laughing at the caricature, because they don’t identify with the Chinese character.  Lee didn’t find it funny, and when Linda recognizes what she and others are laughing at, she stops laughing.

In the end, I am asking that people as consumers be mindful of these depictions in the media.  Do not be so quick to deny they are happening.  Demand better from those who produce our “entertainment.”  Most of all, speak up when you do notice that something is wrong, because I guarantee you are not the only one who feels this way.

Monday, September 23, 2013

More Than An Ally - Internalizing the Effects of Oppression

(originally posted on For Harriet)

I have become increasingly bothered by the implications of the term ‘ally’. Particularly, I am disturbed by how some, from academics to entertainers, use this label to force themselves on marginalized groups and use them for their own platform. I accept that most people who identify with being an ally do so from a place of genuine concern for the issue. They are proud to be activists along with people who are more directly affected by a specific social injustice. For the most part, I do not question the sincerity of those who identify as allies, this is an important point I want to make from the start. However, I take issue with the implied sense of unaffectedness of the term, and how the behavior of some who identify as allies has been downright traitorous to the causes which they claim to be aligned. The entitlement expressed by some self-appointed allies to be the voice of their chosen cause and the accolades they get often times far surpass the group or movement with which they associate.

Some may ask, ‘why stigmatize the term because of misguided people?’ I understand we live in a society that teaches difference and separation from birth, and many cannot grasp how they are closely affected by inequalities that seem so far from their lived experiences. I understand that people who are affected by inequalities may want to hold on to their out-group identity and use it as a way to distinguish themselves from people with privilege. My opinion on the situation stabs directly at these points of view and pulls us closer together as oppressed people than many would like to think they are.

I have come to realize my activist experience could be considered unique due to its multiracial, gender/sexual identity inclusive, and intergenerational make-up. My personal support network shares these characteristics as well. When I’ve gone to protests or community action meetings for issues like neighborhood violence, immigration, public school closings, or police abuses, there is not group of affected people and allies. There is a gathering of people who have all been affected by oppression and who draw direct links between the injustices they’ve suffered and what someone else is going through. Our understanding of the shared roots of oppression, via our experiences, draws us closer than just friends of a movement, and our personal connections makes us more than allies.

Unity, Not Sympathy

For me, the term ally conveys a disconnected concern about an issue. An ally can be sympathetic, genuine, supportive, concerned, and passionate yet they are not directly affected by the condition oppressing a community. As we've seen with some responses to Mikki Kendall's #solidarityisforwhitewomen phenomenon, because of hurt feelings and refusal to understand the sentiment, some allies have felt that their support was betrayed. Others have said outright that they'll no longer do women of color the favor of trying to help. They situate themselves at the center of the issue and show how quickly one can separate themselves from a condition or movement which they were never solidly connected. Seeing oneself as a featured guest of others’ oppression gives you an out, so to speak. It gives you a space to let “others” handle speaking out about an issue.

The feminists who fell silent about The Onion’s viciously misogynistic comment about 9 year-old Quvenzhan√© Wallis is endemic of this opting out of unity. This is partially the result of an ally not substantially relating to an oppressed group. Many, usually vocal, feminists opted out of criticizing the publication in a direct and meaningful way, one which called out the racially problematic nature of the tweet and its writer. Instead, comments were prefaced with statements like “I know what they were trying to do, but…” or referred to the comment simply as “going too far.”

When someone can be seen as similar to one’s best friends, boyfriends, sweet southern grandmother or other close relation, the allegiance of an ally may not be with the marginalized group. This unity of convenience is an example of privilege. The privilege of stepping away from oppression, stepping away from criticizing one’s peers, or of self-criticism isn’t limited to white feminists or middle class men. It’s a symptom of false consciousness which allows oppression to continue.

Privilege At The Ready

When allies were criticized we have seen how quickly some retreated and reasserted their entitlement. Their privilege, the comfort of not being a member of a specific marginalized community regardless of their membership in another marginalized group, prevented them from having a lasting connection with said group. An ally can enact their privilege at any moment, including the privilege of forcing groups to accept their solidarity. Talib Kweli responded to criticism by saying he was an ally whether women liked it or not. This comment and mindset serves to position him at the head of the table and attempts to put women in a less powerful position; one of non-consent and at the mercy of his allied actions and words.

Hugo Schwyzer, the darling of mainstream feminism, believed that admitting to his abusive and predatory behavior towards women made him a stronger ally because he now felt the sting of persecution. His version of “shattering gender myths” included attempting to lessen his abuse of power with his students, calling his behavior ungentlemanly but saying that “at least the sex was age appropriate.” This stance is disturbingly reminiscent of Kyle Payne, who in 2008 held on to his radical feminist identity even after his conviction of sexually assaulting an incoherent college student under his care when he was an RA. Payne said that his radfem activism would be working to rehabilitate sex offenders…while he was in jail for a sex offense.

The silencing of transwomen’s voices in feminism is a hateful, daily occurrence. On social media and in public writing, self-proclaimed radical feminists have asserted that transwomen are not real women and should not be included in feminism at any level. This is the tip of the iceberg regarding the sexism inherent in beliefs that hinge on gender superiority and exclusion, no matter which gender is touted as superior or who is being excluded.

The idea and exhibition of privilege is very real, but the dividing power of it can be overcome by a realistic look at how most of us do not hold substantial power in society. We may have enough resources for smartphones, name brands, and microbrew beers, but we sell our labor as well. Some of us have a harder time selling our labor due to institutional prejudices, but all of us are, in essence, at the mercy of those who own the big stuff. Acknowledging this fact of oppression goes a long way in pulling people closer to being affected, as opposed to just seeing oneself as a passionate sympathizer.

Being More

The quote that started this piece embodies everything I feel is problematic about just being an ally. We don’t all have to feel the exact same oppression, but there must be an acknowledgement of universal oppression that we all feel that makes us fight together. None of us are above the specters of racism, sexism, classism, and any other –ism that exists. We can’t fight sexism without realizing that racism and heterosexism is alive and well in the feminist movement. We can’t fight racism and at the same time employ racial supremacy and exclusion as a defensive tactic.

Only movements that have been multiracial, and gender and age inclusive have achieved the most success, and those successes are slowly being rolled back due to lack of solidarity. I don’t need well meaning, sympathetic, sounding boards to readily proclaim their privilege in self-flagellation. I need sisters and brothers-in-arms who understand that one kind of suffering is dependent on other kinds of suffering, and our fight-back must be based on that unity.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Misappropriating Our Asses: Miley and the White Girl Takeover of Twerking

See my guest blog post at and "The Distraction of Twerking: Why Activism Is Not Complaining About Miley" at For Harriet. :-)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Words, Sticks, and Stones: Misogyny in Hip Hop on Social Media

Dream Hampton committed the cardinal sin of hip hop last night on her Twitter thread, she dared to express her opinion.  Hampton said that J Dilla was the greatest producer of all time.  When another producer & hip hop icon, Pete Rock of Pete Rock and CL Smooth, took exception to her expressing this opinion, taking it as an insult to his own producing cred, he called her a groupie and a rider, short for dick rider.  Men who either supported Pete Rock's sensitivity about his legacy in the game or who just disagreed with Dream's opinion also attacked her validity to have an opinion on the issue.

When Busta Rhymes, of Flip Mode Squad and Leaders of the New School, Q-Tip, of A Tribe Called Quest, and Questlove, of The Roots, either re-weeted or agreed with Dream's opinion, all the male hip hop heads who were up in their feelings, or up in Pete Rock's feelings, gave them the pass of silence.  None of the negative, aggressive, or bullying comments that were lobbed at Dream were directed towards Busta, Tip, or ?uestlove.

Furthermore, when Dream committed the second deadly sin of hip hop, calling out the misogyny laced in the comments she received, the volume on the bullying speech was turned up.  People demanded that Dream stop playing the sexism/male hegemony card and defend her position.  However, the gender-based comments were launched well before a debate could take place. No one even asked Dream why that was her opinion before Pete Rock said she should know better, he's not going to let her diss him, and FOH, short for fuck outta here, as in get the fuck outta here.

What does a Twitter squabble mean in the gist of hip hop?  For starters, it would seem that the total dismissal of a woman's voice via gendered aggressive language is still second nature to some in hip hop culture.  Again, before one person asked her why, there were several attempts to silence Dream and piss on her opinion.  It's the former that's the higher offense, as the latter sometimes happens when all involved are passionate about the subject.  The mean spirited knee-jerk response of Pete Rock and shameful taunting comments of his cronies that followed seems a testament to the fact that there's still a long road ahead for equal respect of women in the genre.  Not just for rappers but also for people expressing an opinion, which is just sad.

The saving grace in this exchange was Hampton's refusal to be intimidated or silenced.  She owned her voice and agency and never gave them up.  She didn't apologize for anyone's hurt feelings or bruised ego and refused to correct an offense she didn't make.  Another bright light was the show of disgust by men at the comments of an immature few.  While some men tried to see both sides, others outright threw the shame back into the face of Pete Rock and his co-signers. 

Be more clever.  Sexism is too easy of a path to take but it may be the only path available when you have no intelligent basis for debate.  Women have had and continue to have a voice in hop hip.  Get over it.  Women are the subjects of lyrical inspiration and they have produced some of its most memorable content.  Women, including Dream Hampton, have given some of the most articulate critiques about the genre and have been its biggest guardians.

The most tragic and wholly unacceptable part of this incident is that Dream was heckled outside her home by guys who may have been adding their personal 2 cents about the Twitter argument.  An immature social media response could have been a most unfortunate physical encounter for these guys who felt entitled to try to interrupt someone's life. [**Dream has since confirmed this was not the case. Not all hope is not lost!]  And this is the problem with the way hip hop is presented to the masses.  No respectful disagreements, only disrespectful dismissals via sexist taunts.  To the people who claim to love and live for hip hop but act this way, grow up.  You're old enough to know better and hip hop deserves better.