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.

Check out the whole post on Medium

The Shattered Innocence of Black America

As featured on Medium

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

Dear White People, Racism Is Not About You

Dear White People,

It’s been awhile since our last chat, but I’ve been noticing that you keep fundamentally misunderstanding what racism is. So let’s start with the basics:

Racism is not about you.

You’ve spent too long thinking about racism as a personal animus —a dislike or mistrust for people who don’t look like you. This cartoon caricature of what racism is prevents us from resolving very real problems.

This world view implies that the end of racism will come when we make people — especially white people — “less racist” by minimizing bias. You seek to provide diversity training and to encourage diversity. To make white people “better”.

But racism isn’t merely malice towards people who don’t look like you, or bias against them. It’s a systemic preferencing of the issues that affect white people over those of people of color. Racism is a system, a system of inequality that treats one group of people — one arbitrary group — differently from another.

Deleting your personal bias from our world will not undo the lasting systemic effects that have reinforced racial inequality, from segregation to education to mass incarceration.

And so when we talk about racial discrimination in employment, or random police stops, or drug criminalization, when you should hear “this system is racist”, you instead hear “you are a bad person”. And out comes that ubiquitous five word response:

I am not a racist.

Those were the words of Michael Richards (Kramer) after his now infamous “He’s a nigger!” rant.

Those were the words of Donald Sterling after he was recorded telling his girlfriend not to be seen publicly with black people (not to mention the federal discrimination case against him for his racist housing policies).

And if you cannot admit to seeing racism in even the most obvious cases, is it at all a surprise that the nuance of structural racism continues to elude us?

This past week, tragedy struck in Paris, and the world united in solidarity. Despite similar events in Beirut and Kenya — despite similar events in non-Western countries on a nearly daily basis — they received no such solidarity.

Is it racism driving the wildly disproportionate empathy with the tragedy in Paris compared to that in Beirut? Was it racism driving the same comparing Charlie Hebdo to the Boko Haram massacre?

It’s complicated. It should be noted that this isn’t the media’s fault. News stories covered both events. However the consumers of media, particularly people in the Western world — people who have more wealth and social power than those elsewhere — have more of a connection to France than to Lebanon, whether it be a semester abroad, a family member, or even a class taken about France or in French, and they identify with France as a result. Are these people racists? Not really. But is the overall result — the systemic validation of white pain, of the white experience — a product of racism?

Yes. But it is not the obvious racism of white robes and burning crosses. Nor is it the coded racism lurking behind phrases like “states’ rights” or “urban culture” or “welfare queen”. It is the structural racism that implicitly values the experiences of white people, while turning a blind eye to those of people of color, and the systemic injustices that arise as a result.

Fighting racism is not about fixing you: making you “less biased” or “not a racist”. Fighting racism isn’t even about making you fundamentally care about the issues that face people of color just as much as you care about the issues that affect you.

Fighting racism is about undoing the all-encompassing systemic inequalities that have arisen as a result.

I’m not telling you not to empathize with Paris in these tragic times. In these trying times, they need our support and love and solidarity.

But try to remember that horrible atrocities like the act of terror in Paris happen all the time — in countries you never think about. Try to imagine how it must feel to know that the world doesn’t care about you, never has, and probably won’t in your lifetime. Only then will you understand why somebody might believe that they are at war with the Western World and must drive conflict with it at any cost.

The Force Awakens in all of us, even the “nobodies”

As featured on Medium

Boyega

I’m a Star Wars geek, and I have been for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of watching Star Wars with my first grade class, writing reports on what it meant to be a Jedi, and it was that from which I drew my first coherent life lesson.

You see, by then, I’d already started to internalize the many voices telling me that the worst thing I could be — as a black man — was angry. Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side.

I came to understand Luke over the course of that year, to empathize deeply with him — his journey as a hero, his struggles with the dark side, and yet ultimately, his detachment from the Jedi.

And yet in the face of growing hype around Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the newest trilogy, I’ve tried to hold back, to manage expectations, and to remain calm, because despite the hype, the prequel trilogy was nothing but a massive disappointment.

In contrast, there have been so many other geek franchises — great franchises — to buy into. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings bringing fantasy into modern pop culture. The rise of Marvel as a blockbuster machine. The gritty realism of DC reboots like The Dark Knight. The success of sci-fi shows like Battlestar Galactica and the cult following behind Firefly.

The prequel trilogy wasn’t for me though, not really. That trilogy was about hyping a new generation on Star Wars. But this new trilogy? I can’t get enough of it. I’ve watched the trailer again and again, grinning and whooping and crying. This trilogy aims to deliver on the promises of the original, to culminate an experience that is — to many — generationally defining. It seeks to cash in on nostalgia, but also to fulfill those promises — to exceed those expectations.

And so when Kylo Renn says “I will finish what you started” to the husk of Vader’s mask, I have to wonder: is that his line? Or is it J.J. Abrams’ promise to George Lucas?

And when a group of racist trolls start #BoycottStarWarsVII because it has a black man and a woman as its protagonists, I can’t help but see a larger nostalgic trend. When historically white worlds like Hollywood experience increasing diversity, the pushback from white reactionaries has been strong.

But nowhere has this been more notable than in the world of fantasy and science-fiction. Before John Boyega, there was controversy over a black Spiderman, a black girl in Hunger Games, and now a black Captain America.

And I realize I’m so ready for this Star Wars movie not because it’s a throwback to the old Star Wars, a Star Wars I already loved. I am counting the days until its release because it is for me in a way it has never been before.

The reason for that is John Boyega, the black actor portraying one of the leads, and how damn real he is. Black people aren’t allowed to be people in media, only caricatures. They can be funny or angry. They can be mystical or competent. They can be larger than life or lesser, superhuman or subhuman. But they can’t be people.

And yet when Boyega first appears in the official trailer, dripping with sweat, he has no trait but an all-too-human one: insecurity.

I was raised to do one thing, but I’ve got nothing to fight for.

Boyega-2-full
Aren’t you a little black for a stormtrooper?

Throughout the trailer, he shows a myriad of emotions: fear, shock, resolve. His face — a sweaty, black face emerging from a sullied white stormtrooper helmet— is the new face of Star Wars.

And yet the racist nostalgia for a whiter, more simple Star Wars couldn’t be more wrong. At its heart, Star Wars is a tale about a ragtag coalition of aliens fighting against a dominant homogenous force. We can let Chewbacca in as a protagonist, but a black protagonist? Crazy talk.

Kylo Ren — the new “villain” in this distant galaxy — promises the mask of Vader:

Nothing will stand in our way.

And yet there at least two who will. Finn, who has nothing to fight for. Rey, the female lead, who answers “I’m no one” to her identity.

Finn-Rey

That is the face of the new Star Wars. The nobodies. A woman. A black man.

I can’t tell you whether the new Star Wars movie will be good, or whether you’ll like it. But I can tell you that — for the first time — I’ll be able to look at that screen — to imagine that world — and to see myself in it.

Failure to Comply

As featured on Medium.

On July 10th, Sandra Bland was pulled over by an officer for failure to signal a lane change.

By the end of the hour, she would be arrested. By the end of the day, she would be in jail. By next week, she would be found dead in her own cell in what was ruled a suicide.

The frenzy of media coverage would focus on whether or not Sandra Bland had indeed killed herself, with her family insisting that she never would have done such a thing, leading to speculation that she died post-arrest in what was made to look like a suicide.

To me, that is the wrong question. Is it possible that Sandra Bland died of complications arising from having her head slammed into the ground? Possibly. During her arrest, she reported hearing loss and not being able to feel her arm (a symptom of a concussion), and she had epilepsy, something reported .

But as I’ve written about previously, I find suicide under her circumstances fundamentally plausible.

It is not enough to ask how she ended up dead in jail, when the simpler question is how she ended up in jail at all.

Sandra Bland was forced out of her car at taser-point, slammed into the ground, and arrested for one simple action: Failure to Comply. She neglected to do exactly what she was told, when she was told it, without talking back. Because she was unwilling to be a “good nigger”. Because she refused to be treated like a slave.

That is not to say that there is not at least some need for police to be able to issue lawful orders in the course of their duty. However, those orders need to be clearly phrased and germane to promoting safety.

All too often, “resisting arrest” simply means “moving away from the officer” or “moving towards the officer”, or “moving too slowly” or “moving too quickly”, or “talking back” or “not talking enough”. In some cases, police simply escalate violence on somebody who is doing nothing at all, or in Sandra Bland’s case, asking to know why she was being arrested.

In New York, a man was tackled to the ground by 6 officers while onlookers were threatened with mace, simply because he tried to close up his shop before presenting his ID. Simply because he asked “what are you going to do, arrest me?”

In each of these situations, the implication by officers is clear:

My whims are more important than yours
My safety is more important than yours

This is a complete rejection of the police’s supposed role as protectors and public servants, and instead reveals their complicity as enforcers of white supremacy, as reminders that American society has always been set up under the assumption that blacks should do as they’re told, and with a smile.

That is the ultimate face of racism, not police brutality, not systemic bias, but a simple thought:

I am better than you
You are nothing

You Can’t Break What Ain’t Fixed

Bernie Sanders

As featured on Medium

To liberal white Americans, Bernie Sanders represents the salvation of the American Dream. In a time of staggering inequality, the only independent Senator in America — and quite possibly the only self-identified socialist — feels like a dream candidate.

His pedigree standing up to powerful interests is perhaps the most impressive of any American politician, and his history of support for protecting the middle class is —in contrast to the biteless bark of many politicians — entirely refreshing.

So when Black Lives Matter protestors disrupted several recent events of his, Bernie Sanders supporters criticized them in droves. In their minds, the protests represent exactly the sort of in-fighting that has earned liberals the reputation of not uniting as well as conservatives, and losing out as a result.

On top of that, Bernie Sanders supporters seem baffled why protestors would come after such a liberal politician, rather than more corporatist candidates like Hillary Clinton, or the party of apparent racism, Republicans.

By asking these questions, they reveal the massive disconnect between black and white voters, and black and white America.

Bernie Sanders is — in one sense — a progressive, inasmuch as he envisions a world where politics is less dominated by the “ruling class” that corporations and the 1% have set themselves up to be. He is certainly a progressive for his vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, and for presiding over one of the first states to legalize gay marriage. He is a progressive for his support of paid leave for childcare, illness, or even — *gasp* — vacation. He is a progressive for his focus on the survival of the American middle class and — cheesy though it may sound — The American Dream.

And for all that and more, he has earned my vote. Bernie Sanders could be caught on camera calling Obama “a dirty nigger”, and I’d probably still vote for him. Why? Because he represents economic and social ideals I don’t see anywhere in the face of American politics. Because if it’s him or Hillary Clinton, I’ll take the candidate without Fortune 500 puppetmasters any day. Because if it’s him — if it’s any Democrat — vs the circus car of Republicans…

And it is precisely his progressivism that makes him a good target for such protests. Bernie gets it, gets the struggle in a way most politicians don’t. Motivated by recent critiques of his campaign’s silence on race, his recent speech before the Southern Christian Leadership Conference touches on many issues of race both explicitly and repeatedly. He critiques the criminal justice system for over-policing. He critiques the educational system for failing young Americans.

It is Bernie who hears from these protestors because it is Bernie among the frontrunners who might actually welcome black Americans into the political fold. It is Bernie who is so close to understanding the root of structural and cultural racism and yet so far.

Does anybody believe Hillary Clinton — with all of her political clout — is going to be swayed by a few protestors? Does anybody believe that any Republican candidate might stop for even a moment to consider catering to a radical black movement?

It is not despite Bernie’s liberal nature, but due to it that he is the cracked door which black America can shove its foot into and demand to be let in. And the success of these protests has already been seen, with Bernie Sanders hiring a black activist to his campaign and adding a section on racial justice to the platform on his website only yesterday.

But — despite all of the praise I have just heaped on him, I hope it was quite clear that a massive “but” was coming — his take is far from perfect. He does all of this with the veneer of “this is an American problem which happens to fall disproportionately on black Americans”, and by doing so, he misses the deliberate history of racial neighborhood segregation, or the fact that social programs were consistently attacked by evoking images of minorities taking advantage of white society, or the fact that the War of Drugs is largely a war on brown and black people.

He is a regressive for the same reason I called him a progressive for: his focus on the American Dream.

Bernie Sanders represents a movement that sees the American Dream as broken. In words alone, this aligns him with the words of many black activists, not to mention Kanye West:

The system broken, the schools is closed, the prison’s open.
We ain’t got nothin’ to lose, motherfucker we rollin’

However, Bernie Sanders sees the American Dream as incidentally broken, but rests on its successes over the last several hundred years. This differs from how movements like Black Lives Matter see the American Dream, as being fundamentally broken due to its reliance on exploitation of blacks.

What the American Dream represents is a sort of violent assimilation that focuses on the issues of white, nuclear, homeowning families.

Housing segregation, redlining, and race riots kept blacks away from home ownership by force, confining them to devalued ghettos and systemically excluding them from the American Dream.

Bernie Sanders wants to revitalize the American Dream, to restore it to its past glory. He wants to re-paint the white picket fence, bring home a new dog, and have money at the end of the day to spring for curtains and a guest room.

Noble a goal though it may be, the American Dream has always left black Americans outside the fence looking in. By protesting his speeches and criticizing his often race-blind platform, they aren’t critiquing his dream. They’re asking to be included in it.

All This Has Happened Before, And All This Will Happen Again

As featured on Medium

MLK

On August 9th 2014, Michael Brown was shot by a police officer, sparking a national conflagration which has been burning brightly since, casting light on the anti-black violence endemic to American white supremacy.

His name was emblazoned into the minds of black Americans of all walks, but particularly young black Americans, many of whom may have grown up under the delusion that the use of state-sanctioned violence against black bodies was an endangered species after having been hunted to near extinction in the years following the Civil Rights Movement.

If there appears to be a newfound sense of urgency in this newest batch of racial advocates, it is because they face a history that repeats itself ad nauseam, with little hope for the sort of radical systemic change that is necessary to right past wrongs and finally extricate black America from the “Other America” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so often criticized America for ignoring.

In another historical re-enactment (of Ramsey Orta), the man who filmed Tyrone’s body and called for him to receive medical treatment was arrested for “resisting arrest”, and later released with documented injuries from his arrest.

As if revisiting the Ferguson of a year past, many peaceful protestors were arrested in St. Louis, including esteemed activist, philosopher, and first black Philosophy Ph.D. from Princeton, Cornel West .

And once again, police departments allegedly deployed tear gas — a weapon so heinous as to be banned in wartime— against civilians.

A year later, young boys are still being shot in the streets of Ferguson, and those who film potential police misdeeds are still going to jail for it. With each new violation failing to make a difference in culture, accountability, or policy, we are left with two looming questions:

If teenagers being shot in the streets and bystanders being bullied and arrested for filming cops is not enough, what atrocities will it take to spur real, politically driven change?

And if that never happens, how long before black America — and its liberal allies — decide enough is enough with their voices being unheard?

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