A New Year’s Resolution for a Political Revolution

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In 2017, we won victories *against* Trump. In 2018, it’s time we start winning victories *for* something.
 
So here’s a 2018 New Year’s Resolution we should all get behind. Get engaged, get informed, and get involved, even if it’s on just one issue. Become an evangelist on that issue. Have water-cooler conversations about it at work. Tell people what you stand for. Talk more and smile less.
 
I get it, Facebook is for memes and photos of kittens and the news is too depressing to look at. But if you can’t bear to look at the news in 2018, you’ll have nobody to blame but yourself when the news in 2021 is even worse.
 
Talking is just the first step. Find other people who are talking about the same things — or better yet, working to improve them — and see what you can do together to make a difference.
 
Tell me in the comments: what issue/issues do you care about? How will you go to bat for them in 2018?

Irony is Dead

Phew. I’ve finally finished something I consider to be pretty close to my manifesto. It connects the alt-right’s actions during GamerGate and Trump’s election and Charlottesville, discussing the way that they shift paradigms by waging an all out assault on our norms of right and wrong by attacking our sense of humor.

My instinct is to continue to edit this until it’s perfect and unassailable, but I think the way we respond to the alt-right will be one of the fundamental issues facing our generation, and there’s no time to waste. I’m constantly tweaking my opinion on the matter, but this is probably the closest I’ll come to putting it down on paper fully.

Irony is Dead – The Alt-Right Has Killed It

Stay tuned for Pt. 2 (my proposed solution) later in the week.

The Young and The Radical – The Awakening of a New Black America

I’ve been black my whole life. It’s funny how the math of race works: a black woman meets a white man and makes a black child.  I’ve always known that, but at the same time, it’s a new discovery. And having discovered it, I am afraid.

America has never played by the rules when it comes to black people. But this generation of young black Americans are the first to be raised expecting a fair world, and now we don’t know what to do. We’re sad, we’re hurt, and we’re afraid.

Day by day my fear turns into anger. Day by day I lose more of my precious little remaining faith that America will heal its racial divide soon, if ever. Most of all, I fear what happens if it doesn’t. I fear that Black Lives Matter will one day become a violent movement. Most of all, I fear I’ll be there with them, anger fueling my every action and hate in my heart.

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The Shattered Innocence of Black America

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Barely a year ago in Portland — surrounded by more people of color than I had met in my seven years living there — I stood in the rubble of a destroyed city block, breathing in the wet fog and acrid dust, blinking back tears. But it was not the buildings which had been destroyed. The Portland Justice Center stood untouched by the fire that raged around it.

The destruction was of people around me, of their innocence and of their naivete, of their belief in the fairness of a system that had evolved over hundreds of years to exploit and destroy their bodies and in so doing, occupy their minds and spirits with thoughts only of survival rather than revolution. I wept openly without a care for who saw me, for I too had been destroyed with them.

I remember thinking: That was the last mistake of the cabal of white supremacy. Young black Americans — of all socioeconomic classes and educational backgrounds — had been forcibly disabused of the notion that the Civil Rights Movement had opened The American Dream to them. We had been told our whole lives that racism was in the past, that we had been made human in the eyes of the powers that be. This had been revealed as nothing more than a fairy tale.

By the awakening of our righteous anger, tension would ripple across the United States, a tension that would ignite a social revolution.

I believed in this revolution, with trepidation, hesitation and qualification, but without the faintest sense of my own irony: an atheist caught believing in the religion of man’s ultimate progress and goodness.

And yet another year has passed and the irony is staring me in the face. I have witnessed case after case after case with one conclusion: Black Lives don’t Matter. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. John Crawford III. Tamir Rice — a 12-year-old boy — gunned down within seconds of officers arriving on the scene, with no words exchanged, no orders issued, no attempts to communicate or to understand, and of course, no justice to be found.

Again I find myself filled with righteous rage, against the system and against its agents. And yet smothering those emotions are others: resignation, hopelessness, and depression.

Black Lives Matter, when I first heard it, struck me as Black Power must have struck those my age in the late 60s: as a defiant declaration of resistance and self-actualization, sending chills down my spine with the power of its transgressive nature. But on some days, I only hear a cruel joke: a credo that is nothing but a false assertion, a desperate plea for validation of self-worth against a system that inflicts dehumanization.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there is reason for hope.

In August, Governor Jerry Brown of California banned the use of grand juries in cases surrounding police violence. Only time will elucidate the impact of this change. But to me, it strikes me as horrendously naive to see grand juries as the one key flaw.

Time has taught me one thing, and it is that the black condition is not an exploitation of an otherwise exemplary system, but rather its fundamental result. That is nothing minor procedural changes will ever remedy.

The American Dream itself is still the enemy of blackness, and all we have done is reshaped The Dream in increasingly subtle and insidious ways, that we might pat ourselves on the back and marvel at how “far” we’ve come.

In the year leading up to the Ferguson protests, I had been struggling with my own innocence, grappling with my belief in the fundamental nature of what Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to as “The Dream”. I had long since come to terms with the fact that The Dream was built to perpetuate the comfort of the conglomerate of those we call “white”, built on the backs of those who society calls “black”.

But I still believed — still had to believe — that The Dream could be expanded to include people like me.

Being born of parents both black and white and yet unquestionably seen as black and not white, I should have known better. Blackness and whiteness are not objective realities any more than the borders of countries or the meanings of words; they are arbitrary lines in the sand, social constructs used to divide people, elevating some with the oppression of others.

American liberalism is an exercise in expanding personhood, expanding whiteness. Where once the Irish and the Italians were not white, now they lie safely within The Dream. Women and gays and minorities have all fought for their marginal personhood, earning the right to own property or vote or work, whatever they could scrabble to hold onto amidst a deluge of dehumanization.

We cannot continue to modify The Dream, step by step, deciding which groups we allow beyond the white picket fences and which groups we demonize. This is not solely the work of Trump and his ilk, those who would build a wall to keep out Mexicans or Muslims or other “undesirables”. It is the work of all who tolerate such a system.

By changing the notion of personhood, we merely switch the target of the forces of dehumanization. Only by rejecting the notion of non-personhood wholesale — rejecting ethnicity and nationality, rejecting skin tone and borders — can we create a world without second-class people.

In the struggle between the “give it time” of liberalism and the nostalgia of conservatism that dominates political discourse in America, I find myself standing strangely on the sidelines, espousing a radical departure from a system that has served America — or at least some Americans — quite well.

For now, much like Coates, I have come to terms with the reality that no communication with America — no analogy or metaphor, no movement, no empathic appeal — can ever “close the gap between [their] world and the world for which I have been summoned to speak”.

And yet I continue to do the one thing that has ever distilled together the madness of the world into clarity for me: I write. Ta-Nehisi Coates called writing “a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations”, and so writing seems a fitting reaction to a shattering of innocence.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

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Racism and The Double Standard of Guns

As featured on Medium

This weekend, another militia featuring another Bundy entered into their second armed standoff with the American government.

The first had been on federal land that the Bundy ranch claimed de facto ownership of. According to the Sheriff in charge of apprehending them, “they were in my face and pointing weapons”.

When government flinched, Ammon Bundy remarked triumphantly “The war has just begun”. Emboldened by their victor, Ammon Bundy has joined another militia in the storming and occupation of a federal building by several dozen armed men, during which one member of the occupation would state “I didn’t come here to shoot; I came here to die”.

It’s hard not to view this in the context of the continued use of excessive violence against black Americans. Most notably, the grand jury came back for Tamir Rice with a refusal to even charge Officer Loehmann with a crime. Among the key pieces of “evidence” that were presented to prove his innocence was the toy gun Rice had, which caused Officer Loehmann to “fear for his life”.

The contrast is stark and unforgiving: a single child with a toy gun causes officers to be so filled with fear that they open fire within two seconds, while a group of a dozen armed men is allowed to occupy a federal building despite saying “We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely”.

And while many have jumped to compare the two contemporary events, perhaps a more apt comparison to the Bundy separatists lies in history, with this famous creed:

It doesn’t mean that I advocate violence, but at the same time, I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence.

What right-wing militia leader said this? It turns out…Malcolm X.

Like the Bundy separatists and other right-wing militias, the Black Panthers — intellectual allies of Malcolm X — believed in the primacy of self-defense through gun ownership. In fact, the Black Panthers were originally known as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

Black-Panthers-3

And unlike modern movements like Black Lives Matter — which seek to follow police officers with cameras — the Black Panthers sought accountability by following the police with guns.

We don’t need to speculate about how law enforcement would respond if the militia in Oregon were black because we know how they responded to The Black Panthers. By forming a wholly new “urban guerrilla, counterinsurgency, armylike” force: SWAT.

In 1969, SWAT and various police departments led armed raids on Black Panther Headquarters across the nation. One of the earliest — targeting Illinois Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton  — took place at 4 AM. During the raid, officers fired 90+ shots to the Black Panther’s one (which was fired as part of a death convulsion). Fred Hampton, having been drugged the previous evening by an FBI informant, was found wounded and unconscious, but alive in bed. He was then shot twice in the head and died.

Fred-Hampton

Another raid led to a four-hour shootout with six Black Panthers, with everything from helicopter mounted guns to grenade launchers brought to bear against them. The justification given for the raid was a warrant for suspected gun possession. The Black Panthers were later vindicated on self-defense claims.

It is easy to imagine the modern NRA speaking kindly of the Bundy militia and their multiple standoffs with government. It’s not hard to put together the “Don’t Tread on Me” and the “Stand Your Ground” and the “States’ Rights” and paint a picture where the Bundy militia is a bunch of patriots fighting for their rights.

OhoCarry-Tread

And yet where was the NRA when the National Guard cited the presence of guns as one of their reasons for escalating their clashes with protestors in Ferguson, in Baltimore, in cities across the nation who rose up in protest against the state-sponsored murder of black men?

The answer is simple: the NRA is not about guns and fears of gunlessness. It has been about fear of black Americans for the bulk of living memory. We know the NRA now for its focus on the latter half of the Second Amendment:

The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed

But from its inception, the NRA focused on the former half:

A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State

The NRA’s origins were in training and proper gun care. But by the mid-1960s and the rise of the Black Panthers, the NRA was one of the leading proponents of new gun control laws.

Black-Panthers-1.jpg

In fear of the increased open carry by the Black Panthers, the NRA supported the Mulford Act, which — in essence — criminalized the public carrying of loaded firearms. In support of this bill, Ronald Reagan — yes, that Ronald Reagan — said that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons”. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Don Mulford, added that openly carrying a gun was an “act of violence or near violence

It wasn’t until 1971, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives raided lifetime NRA member Kenn Bellew’s home on suspicion of illegal gun possession that the NRA began to resemble its modern iterations, coming to focus on the unassailable right to gun possession over the next few years.

White-Panthers

So when the Black Lives Matter movement points out that a gun in the hands of a black man is seen as a threat, while a gun in the hands of a white man is seen as a right, it’s important to note that this is nothing new. There is nothing unique about Tamir Rice. There is nothing unique about any of the “I feared for my life” or the “I thought he had a gun” or the “He was a threat”.

It is the inevitable consequence of a system which has used the implicit threat of violence to contain black Americans since its inception. One thing has remained constant. A gun in the hands of an American is a right when those hands are white, and a threat when those hands are black.

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Whose Fantasy Is It Anyway? What 2015 Can Tell Us About the Insecurity of Geek Culture

As featured on Medium

GamerGate. It’s a word many in the gaming journalism world have been timid to write for going on 16 months or so.

For those of you lucky enough to have missed it, GamerGate is the heart-wrenching story of some boys who just wanted to play video games, until one day a woman made a video game and some people really liked that game. But these boys didn’t like that game, which made them sad, and so they sent its designer death threats. That woman had sex with people who weren’t those boys who just wanted to play video games, which also made them sad, and so they sent her more death threats.

When some journalists in the gaming world said “hey guys, cut it out”, those boys realized who the true enemy was: corrupt gaming journalists who didn’t want to report the real story. The real story, of course, being that women were making video games that they didn’t want to play and also weren’t having sex with them. So they sent the journalists death threats and said it was all about “ethics in gaming journalism”.

Real talk: many gaming journalists are in the pockets of AAA gaming companies, like when EA paid YouTubers and reviewers to play Shadows of Mordor but included clauses in their contracts that prevented them from voicing negative feedback.

GamerGate isn’t concerned with that. Instead, they’re concerned with small Indie games with female and minority designers who make games about gender or race or sexual orientation. Why? Because GamerGate is far from a cause. It is a symptom of fears rooted in a changing demographic; the same fears behind the rise of the Tea Party or Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Let me give you some other words. Misogynist. Racist. Sexist. Homophobic. Transphobic. MRA. Stormfront. Linger too long in the community that calls itself GamerGate and you will see one thing above all else: the fear that the world is expanding to pander to more people than just young men.

2015 has only furthered those fears.

Since its inception, gaming has concerned itself with the bigger questions in life: can Mario save the kingdom from Bowser and rescue Peach? Can Link save Hyrule and rescue Zelda? Can Crash Bandicoot…well, you get the point.

And with year after year bringing bland reworks of games that are little more than fantasies of the American military shooting people from other countries, it’s easy to see why the outside world might characterize the gaming industry as vacuous and immature.

But as games have developed, increasingly deep storylines and themes have evolved. This process has been mirrored in the movie industry as well as on TV. This year we have seen geek culture cover a much wider array of perspectives, with a number of classic franchises taking a distinctly feminist bent.

FURY ROAD

Mad Max: Fury Road — a continuation of the gritty post-apocalyptic series — took a radical departure from its usual male-dominated themes to tackle the issues of childbearing and consent in a post-apocalyptic world. Despite a minor MRA protest that the change in the franchise was “emasculating” movies, Fury Road went on to be perhaps the most critically acclaimed of all Mad Max movies.

Marvel’s experiment with TV series’ has proven massively successful. After Daredevil, which was hailed as a massive success, Marvel took a chance on Jessica Jones, a superhero whose origin story is rooted in relationship abuse, PTSD, and the nature of consent.

JessicaJones
Featuring a nonchalant glimpse at an interracial relationship in media.

The newest installation of Tomb Raider — once a male fantasy about a scantily clad woman with copious guns — released its second title within the reboot, featuring a younger Lara Croft struggling with PTSD.

And then there was Star Wars: The Force Awakens, featuring a black lead and female protagonist. Of course, in a world populated by aliens and The Force and lightsabers and lasers, it was a black stormtrooper that many were up in arms about, leading to some truly bizarre critiques of the movie.

It’s hard not to see the backlash against these franchises as one and the same as GamerGate: an ugly, knee-jerk, regressive reaction to change. For too long, the fantasy that is geek culture — fantasy and science fiction and video games and comic books — has been defined by exclusivity.

The target audience for geek culture is broadening rapidly. Comic books and superheroes are a mainstream delight, not a niche fandom. The word “gamer” is rapidly becoming meaningless as it starts to include almost everybody. We should celebrate that expansion, not fear it.

I’m Dreaming of a Black Star Wars

As featured on Medium

Dear younger me,

Merry Christmas! You’re what, 10 now? 13? I can’t remember if you’ve just seen the first Star Wars prequel or the second, but I do know the disappointment you feel. You don’t quite know why, but you are certain what you just watched was not Star Wars, not really. Now you’re wondering if you ever want to see another Star Wars movie again.

Jar-Jar

You probably don’t have the words to explain your distaste for Jar-Jar Binks yet. Today, I’m going to give you those words. Those words are blackface and minstrelsy.

I really wish I were breaking the space-time continuum for the first time to tell you something else, something bigger. How to avoid dark futures. What to invest in. Whether that girl thinks you’re cute.

But for now, there’s only one thing I can tell you. It’s going to be alright. You think this Star Wars trilogy is your only hope. No. There is another. And it is everything you want and more.

With the prequel trilogy you have been made abundantly aware of something you didn’t even notice when you watched the original trilogy: the utter lack of black characters.

Lando-Calrissian-banner

Fine, there were caricatures, like Lando Calrissian looking like he’s the creeper ghost from the Ghostbusters music video, or Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role in every movie: Samuel L. Jackson.

But character depth or development was pretty much a whites-only club for 6 movies. Hell, there were aliens given more screen time than the black characters in Star Wars, which may be fitting as aliens and other species often fill the metaphorical role of people of color in science fiction and fantasy (Nemoidians and Toydarians come to mind).

In Star Wars — and in the bulk of cinema — black characters are far too often one-dimensional. They may have strong positive and negative traits, but rarely are they allowed to change or to grow, relegating them to the role of mentor or sidekick or comic relief.

I’ve made no secret of my hype for Finn in The Force Awakens, and he fully lives up to those expectations. He shows insecurity and conviction, fear and bravery, isolation and camaraderie, and grapples with those traits en route to becoming a hero.

It’s a wild ride, and you’ll love it every minute of it.

Yours Truly,

Older You

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