Downward spiral into hate: A year after Charlottesville, a few thoughts

It’s been a year since last year’s deadly Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., which took the life of Heather Heyer, a white anti-racist activist. It was an event that shredded any last hope that America was post-racial, especially when the president couldn’t bring himself to condemn the actions;  instead, he equivocated and said there were many fine people on both sides.

For many, Charlottesville was the moment when the racial blinders came off and many were forced to see the real America right in the eye—perhaps for many, right in the mirror in their own eyes and faces. To see a nation where the virtues and dreams we have espoused are not who we are in reality. Instead, we are a nation that was founded on the stolen land of Indigenous people and built with the labor of enslaved Africans. A nation where white supremacy is as much a part of our daily rounds as the air we breathe. Charlottesville was when the door of that closet where tried to keep all the hate stashed away flew open and it, would no longer close, spilling out it contents.

In the year since the horrifying event at Charlottesville, despite the stated desire of many to unify and do better, in reality it’s been an almost daily assault on Black people, other people of color and other marginalized people. We now live in a country where babies are separated from their families for the crime of families wanting a piece of the American dream but lacking the white skin that historically has allowed those we deem white to emigrate to this country.

Donald Trump’s vitriol towards people of color has intensified, and in the past year we have seen far too many average white people emboldened to act as modern-day slave catchers. Giving rise to BBQ Becky, Permit Patty and a host of other white characters who are so offended by the audacity of Black and Brown people daring to exist in anything other than misery that they call the police to report non-white people for the crime of living.  There are few daily acts of living which are immune from police involvement: a trip to Starbucks, a kid selling lemonade, a visit to your local pool. And the daily acts we haven’t seen criminalized by white people surely will be soon enough, until it is clear that police will be called on any Black person, any time, for any action.

At the same time, the national media has been forced to report on racial issues, but instead of using accurate language, too many times, blatant acts of racism are cowardly reported as “racially tinged” or couched as “racial anxiety” rather than named for what they truly are: “racist” and “racism.” Vile and racist white people who are steeped in the clutches of white supremacy are given equal air time because there is a “need” to hear both sides. Those who push back are told they are not being tolerant. The need to be fair overrides the need to be just or sometimes even accurate. Because ultimately those in charge of making these decisions are themselves steeped in white supremacy, albeit a weaker version. Hence their inability to understand that they are upholding the rules of white supremacy that reward a certain type of docility when it comes to uncomfortable topics or matters of race.

Let’s not even talk about the hundreds of pieces dedicated to examining the economic fears of a certain type of white person.  White “economic fear” is simply another version of dog-whistle politics. Fear of losing the benefits of whiteness that gave the white people a headstart and that continue to give white people a head start. Fear of sharing space with any more non-white people than we already have. In fact, fear of sharing space with non-white people to the extent that they will support not only cruel acts to “protect” our borders but also condone the stripping of citizenship from naturalized citizens.

On the flip side, millions of white people are waking up to the reality of white supremacy and becoming aware, as evidenced by the flood of books on the market talking about racism. Awareness of white supremacy runs rampant in certain segments of the population and while my own work is predicated on creating awareness, we are quickly coming to the end of the awareness train. Because awareness isn’t enough to produce change and reverse the increasing racial damage being done lately.

We need more white people who are well-versed on white supremacy and who can think about the issue without centering themselves. We need white folks who are ready to move the needle. White people who will put themselves on the line or even in harm’s way to protect non-white ones from abuse. We need white people who have examined the ways in which they were socialized and indoctrinated into whiteness and who can do this work without a person of color as their tour guide. These same people must increase their own awareness of how to actively question everything and start to notice when they are operating under the rules of whiteness.  We need white people who are thinking critically about racism and privilege and who understand that the societal change we need will require skin in the game and moving beyond the good and bad binary to the deeper work of dismantling whiteness within and in the larger world…while also understanding that the work is messy and deeply uncomfortable and that there is no list of best practices to follow with a list to check off. You aren’t going to read 75 books, amplify marginalized voices online, donate money, attend rallies and occasionally have an uncomfortable encounter and earn a good white person badge. That’s not how any of this works.  Instead, your mission if you accept it is to strike at the heart of white fragility both internally and externally.

We are a nation with a white nationalist at the helm, an aggressive white nationalist whose key advisers hold racist and xenophobic views which are affecting national policies. Can you say Stephen Miller?

Looking back over the past year, I wish I could say things have changed for the better but I would be lying if I said so. To be honest, the rate at which horrific change is happening is downright scary.  That said, the midterm elections are coming up, and the abolition movement is growing. Glimmers of hope in an otherwise dark space.

Many showed up today in Washington, D.C., to protest the white supremacists who were holding a rally. The white supremacists were outnumbered by those who condemn their hateful messages. While it is tempting to give into feel good messages that love trumps hate, that isn’t a good path. While love is amazing, it is not a useful tool enough tool alone in the work to dismantle white supremacy. It’s just one tool, and probably not the best one in the box. Let the good moments give us joy in the dark spaces, but understand that we are playing the long game.


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If you see libraries as the enemy, then you’ve needed more libraries in your life

There are some things you just shouldn’t do because it’s just mean, or maybe stupid, or possibly something that would bring a smile to Dick Cheney’s or Sean Hannity’s face—which is only a short step from giving Satan a sensual foot rub. Basically, things YOU JUST DON’T DO. These include:

  • Going alone and unarmed into the scary basement of a freaky house (or, for that matter, your own basement or backyard at night when there is a suspicious or frightening sound emanating from it)
  • Punching babies in the face
  • Bringing any dish to the cookout that’s been updated with new and surprising ingredients by a newspaper or magazine recipe section
  • Pulling on Superman’s cape, spitting into the wind or pulling that mask off the ole Lone Ranger…or messing with Jim
  • Saying anything bad about Beyoncé on social media
  • Calling for the removal of public libraries from society

Well, maybe that last one got an exemption of some sort recently from the Oval Office. Oh, who am I kidding? Even before the current administration, I’ve seen people trying to destroy the whole concept and institution of public libraries for at least a decade. No doubt they are the people who also think teachers should pay for all the classroom supplies out of pocket and that poor people just need to yank harder on those bootstraps while working 20-hour days at three minimum-wage jobs to end up as famous business-people who can one day be elected to destroy civilization as we know it.

To be perfectly honest, I spent a whole lot of years (and still have partial ownership of a house) in a town where one of the most cherished annual activities of the city council was to cut the public library’s budget just a little bit (or a lot) more because apparently inflation doesn’t exist, and no one should have ready access to knowledge, entertainment and a safe public gathering space.

Yes, I lived somewhere where people were convinced that the only thing standing between them and a cushy retirement in the Cayman Islands was a librarian’s salary. I mean, that library is truly staffed by superheroes because they keep things going despite having a constant fiscal gun to their literary heads—but they shouldn’t have to be superheroes to keep the library open. No library should have to go through that, though many do.

I’m saying all this largely because of the story that was published recently by Forbes online titled “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money,” written by Panos Mourdoukoutas (the story has since been deleted; get the story about that here).

Naturally Forbes will publish some other gems along the lines of “Corporations should take over police functions” (Robocop) or “We should make intelligence and science things to be ridiculed to improve society” (Idiocracy…or the actions of almost every Republican politician and pundit for the past 20 years). Right? Right!? C’mon Forbes, you might let the librarians down but surely you don’t want to let the extreme libertarians down, do you?

Now, the article I linked to above breaks a lot of this down, already, and literate non-Trumpite denizens of social media’s saner neighborhoods had a field day dragging the author and Forbes on Twitter (here, and here…also here…and hey, here too..oh also this and that one…just to share a few), but here’s my own bullet list to consider for those who have a brain and don’t hate libraries because gun-loving anti-healthcare blue-eyed white Jesus told them so:

  • Not everybody has access to tablet readers or other mobile devices
  • Not everyone has easy access (or even access at all) to the Internet (so having those devices means nothing and besides, plenty of people rely on libraries to access the Internet…including to look for jobs even though some of y’all think they’re all just lazy porn surfers)
  • Amazon and other businesses don’t do wide-scale social charity like that. Privatization doesn’t mean better access; it means controlled access
  • Physical books can go places it isn’t wise to bring electronic devices, and physical books don’t need power
  • Many libraries now serve the function with movies that rental places (which no longer exist much) used to, and many people still want to watch movies on something other than Hulu or Netflix
  • Libraries provide meeting spaces and the ability to publicly gather
  • Many libraries provide spaces for free meals to kids and teens who otherwise don’t have access to three squares a day
  • Libraries provide ways for families of very small children to interact and to grow those little minds and develop their social skills
  • And a thousand other things I can’t think of right now (a few of which are mentioned in some of those tweets I linked to above)

Basically, libraries are spectacular. Stevie Wonder “Songs in the Key of Life” wonderful. Getting a fat refund from the IRS at tax-filing time kind of goodness.

If you don’t want part of your tax money going to fund public libraries, I don’t want my tax money funding emergency response people to pull you out of your mangled car after you have an accident because you’re laughing so hard at how FOX News just owned those liberal snowflakes again.


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Black women’s blood is spilled too freely

So, today I want to talk about the killings of two Black women. Well, honestly, I don’t want to talk about it, but I feel that I need to, if for no other reason than the words of Malcolm X that still ring so true today: “The most disrespected woman in America, is the black woman. The most un-protected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America, is the black woman.”

Also because of this not-so-little truth bomb: According to a CDC analysis of data from 18 states between 2003 and 2014, Black and Indigenous women are killed as a result of homicide at rates more than double what women of other races experience. True, homicide is one of the leading killers of women from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, but Black and American Indian/Native American women are the most vulnerable.

As you might guess, the killings I’m going to talk about are the vicious stabbing murder of 18-year-old Nia Wilson in Oakland at a BART train platform and MeShon Cooper, a 43-year-old mother of one in Kansas City who was killed by an alleged white supremacist (I mean, if y’all in the media don’t want to “assume” white supremacy/racism, at least use “likely instead of alleged—the man in Kansas City was previously charged in 2011 with second-degree assault for hitting a Black woman on the head with a hammer as she slept and then sexually assaulting her).

There are any number of layers I can get into here on either or both killings. But probably none of you have time for a research paper right now.

In the Bay Area, the BART transit system already has a checkered past with Black people; we still haven’t forgotten Oscar Grant’s murder by police in 2009, which got big-screen attention in the film Fruitvale Station. Black people don’t necessarily feel protected on the transit system, and when the BART police officers aren’t doing racist things, there are civilians running amok and we kinda feel like focusing on them would be better than going after people like Oscar Grant because maybe then Nia Wilson would still be alive. And, of course, Oakland is also the source of the BBQ Becky nonsense that has been followed up by so many other white women (and now an increasing number of white men, too) needlessly calling 911 on Black people for—well, basically for existing.

And in Kansas City, killer Ronald Kidwell tried to make himself into the victim (and the New York Post and other media helpfully gave him a way to do it). Of course, MeShon Cooper was last seen on July 6, in Shawnee, Kansas, where she lived—then the next day her car was found 12 miles away over state lines, in Kansas City, Missouri, with Cooper’s keys still in the vehicle. And then, y’know, a week later police found her body at the Shawnee home of Kidwell. Not generally how things play out if you’re really the victim. Not to mention Kidwell’s daughter Carolyn Foster mentioned that he has bragged about being in the Ku Klux Klan and liked to show off a swastika tattoo on his arm—plus once threatening to kill Foster and her three children if she “ever spoke to a person of color.” And still there are people who want to debate whether he’s racist and the killing is racially motivated.

Again, what it boils down to is how easy it is for Black women to end up victims—and when they go missing they don’t get the kind of media attention or “Amber Alert”-style attention that white girls and white women do. America, on the whole, doesn’t really care what happens to Black women. They tend to be seen as unworthy of respect, aren’t allowed to express emotions, aren’t seen as worthy as making money for hard work, and so on. As bad as women in general have it in America and as bad as Black and brown men have it, Black women get it worse than anyone else but an Indigenous woman. In general, too, killings of Black people lead to arrests less often than if victims are white.

It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again: We need to say their names. We need to remember these victims and we need to change things. Black women deserve better, and that’s a plain fact.


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