This weight, this pain…a vent of sorts

When your day job is running the longest continuously running anti-racism organization in the country (we are a scrappy ‘lil org that gets by on passion and sweat) and you just so happen to inhabit a Black body while living in a very white state while the country is imploding racially…matters of race are never far from your mind.

The truth is, I am tired. The weight of the past week combined with the weight of the past several years hit me full force on Sunday night. Tears and rage, deep sorrow and fear…fear for my own safety, fear for my son and his wife, fear for my daughter, fear for other loved ones. Fear that we may have reached the point of no return on matters of race. Fear that we may destroy ourselves.

In the past several days, many in my sphere have reached out to remind me to take care of myself, to unplug, to be gentle with myself. I have been mulling over what it means to unplug from the chaos while living as a Black woman in these racially charged times. A dear friend and colleague who is white regularly takes time to unplug and recharge. I envy her not because I can’t take a few days off but because when I think back, there are very few times when matters of race don’t come up, thus interfering in the ability to just check out when the pressures get too great.

I was thinking back to last year, when my family’s day was deeply disturbed by a random carload of white boys calling us niggers as we walked to get gelato. On a day that was about family and telling the kids that our marriage was ending, race popped up. That is the cruelty of how lopsided life is racially in this country. At any moment, your serenity can be destroyed by those who will never forget that you wear the skin of the “other” and that in their small minds, you will always be different and (as far as they’re concerned) lesser, damaged and/or savage. If you are lucky, your serenity is just disturbed; if you are unlucky, you end up dead. Or your child, partner or loved one ends up dead. That thought is never far from you no matter how much you try not to think about it when you see the lights in the rear-view mirror.

I know that I am not alone in my thoughts but, like many, we try not hold these thoughts high in our minds. Yet, after a week like last week it becomes harder to do. To be honest, it’s damn hard. In these moments, the very act of leaving the house feels like going to war, especially after the events in Dallas. Will I encounter friendly faces or hostile faces? Will someone see my Black Lives Matter pin and decide to say something inflammatory? I never know.

What I do know though is that in these moments, there are many with opinions about what Black people should do. One being former New York mayor, Rudy Guliani, who on “Face the Nation” issued his thoughts on what Black people should do. Apparently we should teach our children to respect the police. These words were bold and laughable given that there are very few Black people who at some point don’t have “the talk” with their kids about how to stay safe around cops and, the last time I checked, being pleasant and deferential to the cops is pretty much the standard theme of the talk or rules of survival when living while Black.  Last night a reader left a comment and, well, it put the onus on Black people to do an awful lot of the work. (And let’s not forget that plenty of Black people have been killed by police while either complying with them or innocently going about their day and getting ambushed)

Look, we don’t ask crime victims to solve their own cases. Yet we ask people of color to help “solve” racism and frankly, it’s not fair nor just. We all inherited a world with racial disparities and no matter how we feel, it’s a group effort to move ahead and create a racially just and equitable world. Given that they created, benefit from and largely control the unjust systems, white people have to bear the brunt of the burden of fixing this mess.  A hard and uncomfortable truth, but one that is real.

Despite the “data” that conflates and often puts Black people in a less-than-favorable light, the reality is that just like in any other community, there are people who will run amok. Yet unlike in other communities, Black people bear the burden of 400 years systematic oppression and dehumanization that we must contend with while attempting to live in the world today. We live, work and love and attempt to find joy while being saddled with this weight that we did not ask for and we must bear. At a certain point, to have our concerns belittled and dismissed by people who willingly choose to ignore what does not impact them tears at our souls and sometimes the soft spots become hard and calloused. Somehow, though, most of us find the strength to get up and try it all again because the shared human experience keeps us all going even when we just don’t feel like it (but we shouldn’t have to go through all of that and we shouldn’t be expected to keep doing it).

In the past decade-plus, I have written endlessly about race and racism. I have given talks, facilitated discussions, and tried to move the needle on race in my sphere to the best of my ability. Often as a labor of love because I want change. This week, though, I am tired. So very tired. This week, I just want to be a woman who lives without a constant weight tied around my soul and my being.
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Collective humanity or collective fear?

Racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, downward class mobility and wage stagnation. The global community is in a state of crisis as we all find ourselves operating in an ever changing world where too many of us fear that we are losing our grasp on our carefully constructed reality.

Last week’s stunning vote in the United Kingdom has shaken many of us to the core and, for those of us in the United States, the rise of Trump at times feels like a collective nightmare that we just can’t wake up from. Though for others, it feels like an opportunity to stick it the system that fucked them out of the American dream and instead left them with the American shreds.

The world has never been soft; it has never been fair. Those of us with non-white skin learn that lesson early on in life. But the game has changed and now everyone but the richest of rich understand that the game we are playing called life is rigged and it’s often not in our favor. Turns out that working hard doesn’t necessarily get you far anymore. Though for some of us it never did.  As a writer whose name escapes me at the moment once said, even whiteness isn’t paying out the dividends that it once did.

People are frustrated and fed up and frankly I am right there with them. I grew up working class in a good year and poor in a bad year…so poor some of those years that far too many of my childhood memories revolve around lack and scarcity. I remember dreaming about growing up and doing better. Having now arrived at the magical stop of “better,” it seems that doing better is awfully damned subjective. Better than what? The better that I have created relies on what increasingly requires nonstop work. In order to make ends meet and deal with the neverending responsibilities of adulthood, it means a day job and side jobs. I currently don’t know the world (and haven’t for more than two decades now) of scraping pennies to put food on the table or a visit to the food bank, which were part of my childhood, but I also know that at any moment if the side projects dry up or the day job fails, I will be back in the world that I grew up in. That reality keeps me awake at night.

While my current reality isn’t what I want nor what I envisioned, I also know that it can be worse and that for far too many other people, it is worse. People working physical jobs while enduring physical pain because the copays are too damn high and they can’t get the time off anyway without affecting their weekly pay. Families that have to piecemeal childcare together just to get to work.

We are living in a time, though, where for too many of us our private struggles are just that. Private. After all, no one wants to share the hard moments in a Facebook and Instagram world. Too often we assume that we are alone in our struggles until we see someone give voice to our private frustrations and fears. Donald Trump is many things, many which are questionable, but the one thing that he has tapped into is the collective rage of an underclass that has felt ignored. However, he has also opened up a box of ugly that most likely won’t be repacked and put back on a shelf anytime soon. While it is easy for many to dismiss Trump, as we are seeing in the UK, once someone opens up the box of frustration and mixes it with hate, what we are all faced with is something that threatens us all.

Despite the ugliness that is brewing across the world, there is a common thread linking it all together and that is fear. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of loss. And on top of those fears, the loss of what we believe to be true as we move toward the unknown…and, by the way, as our perceptions of reality crumble, whether they were even close to actual reality or not, that fuels those fears I mentioned earlier and creates new ones. Fear drives us in many ways. For me, fear drives me to push myself beyond what is healthy at times. For others, fear drives them to hate what they don’t know and what they don’t understand.

Fear can also be a catalyst for collective good, though, if we can surrender our own feelings long enough to see that beneath the surface the vast majority of us seek the same thing. To be whole and secure in our personhood. To have food, shelter, healthy bodies and humans who care about us. To know that we matter and that these lives we lead have meaning. These basic needs cross all lines whether we are Black, White, Latinix, whether we live in the States, the UK or Indonesia.

Will we find our collective humanity or will we collectively destroy each other and this world?
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The Value of Black Lives in The Presidential Race and Mainstream Media

Today’s post is written by a special guest, Teddy Burrage is a Portland, Maine native and local activist who focuses on social justice. He is an organizer with Portland Racial Justice Congress, a group of students, activists, and concerned citizens who are promoting multiculturalism, social consciousness, and racial justice in the Greater Portland area. Teddy’s writing can be found on his blog

There has been a major call for racial justice across our country with millions of people taking to the streets, organizing, and literally crying out for the lives of their communities. Despite catching mainstream attention, the recent movement for Black lives is often dismissed and trivialized while still being exploited for TV ratings and political gain. We expect descent from Republicans but how responsive have progressives and Democrats been? Are our leaders and presidential candidates really listening?

THE REAL MESSAGE

The Black Lives Matter Movement has it origins in the epidemic of police brutality and misconduct that has plagued Black communities for decades. Having made Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland household names, the movement has also inspired important conversations about what it means to be Black in America:

The typical Black household now has just 6% of the wealth of the typical white household. More than 60% of the people incarcerated in this country are Black or brown. Predominantly Black communities such Flint, Michigan face neglect and blatant mistreatment by their state governments. Transwomen of color bear the brunt of transphobic violence and murder. And even Black school children suffer from this disparity as they are subject to a disproportionate amount of suspensions and detentions in school districts across the country.

It’s hard to argue that these statistics are not the result of 400 years of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation, only ending one generation ago. And that was just on paper.

THE MEDIA PORTRAYAL

Regardless of the complexity and urgency of these issues, politicians and media still frame the Black Lives Matter movement, and its protests, in a single dimension. If one relied solely on the word of our leaders or cable news for their information (which many do), the take-away would be that the Black Lives Matter movement is just a group of angry, unorganized, and irrational Black people who interrupt America’s favorite white politicians, disrupt travel, and burn down CVS drugstores for fun.

The belittling, exploitative, and dehumanizing lens through which Black plight is portrayed in the mainstream contributes greatly to the ignorance and acts of violence exemplified by recent Donald Trump rallies.

We all saw the young black woman who was assaulted at Trump rally in Kentucky and the Black man who was sucker punched at another in North Carolina. In both incidences, Donald Trump encouraged the violence and even offered to pay the legal fees of the batterer in North Carolina. Ted Cruz said that the Black Lives Matter movement was about “celebrating the murder of police officers” and former presidential candidate Chris Christie agreed with Cruz’s misrepresentation. But the buck does not stop with Republican candidates and their supporters.

It’s easy to call out those who we consider the opposition, but the true measure of integrity is when we allow ourselves to critically examine the attitudes of self-professed progressive allies and leaders.

PROGRESSIVES AND RACIAL INSENSITIVITY

The recent Hillary Clinton rally during which her husband “shutdown” protesters was actually the impetus for this post. He doubled-down in defending his wife’s use of the racially coded term “super-predators”—a term she’s expressed regret for using. He went on to say  to the protesters, “You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter.” Again, I repeat, the Black Lives Matter movement has come to the defense of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland among others – but in many ways that is beside the point.

It’s also important to note that despite the mainstream reports, it’s not even clear if the protesters were part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In an interview with Mic, one of the protesters said: “We were not there to say black lives matter, just there to show discontent with Hillary Clinton because she’s profited off of the black vote and now she’s going after mothers who’ve lost their children due to unjust policing.”

Former-President Clinton is often characterized as an “honorary Black person” which makes his brash attitude towards the protesters a bit dismaying. Moreover, the grievances and concerns of the protesters were legitimate and deserved a more understanding response.

With all that said, one can understand why he came his wife’s defense: it was a rally intended to boost her credibility and campaign and he was there as keynote speaker. But the question remains, is this an instance of him wanting to have his cake and eat it, too?  Does he get to receive affection from the Black community while dismissing and deflecting their concerns?

The incident seemed to be only an extension of uncomfortable and racially insensitive moments in the Democratic primary.

At the beginning of the race, Governor O’Malley said in response to Black Lives Matters protesters at Netroots Nation Conference,”Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter” for which he later apologized, recognizing that the comment was inappropriate in the context of systemic racism and the murder of Black people. In March, a peaceful protester was removed from a $500 per plate Clinton meet-and-greet where attendees hissed and jeered at the young Black woman.

Even at a Bernie Sander’s rally in Seattle, Washington, supposedly one of the most liberal bastions of the country, a Black Lives Matter protester was booed and heckled by audience members as she tried to explain the atrocities that were happening in her community. While it was commendable that Senator Sanders gave the protesters the stage, as with other incidences, it was most disheartening to witness the negative reaction of self-professed progressives in the audience and on social media in the following days.

DEMOCRATS VS REPUBLICANS

It’s clear that Democrats are more sympathetic to concerns of the minority communities, and many of them express that they are committed to substantive efforts to reform public policy to improve lives of Black Americans. Out of the 43 Black members of Congress, only 3 are members of the Republican party, so that says something.

There are also stark differences between the priorities and messages of the two major parties on most issues. The 2016 Republican debates can only be described as something between a circus and playground quarrel, while the Democratic debates have covered real policy and solutions.

But at the core of this post is the question are we committed to equality and justice even above political party?

Paying allegiance to a certain affiliation, candidate, or political ideology doesn’t make you immune to being part of the problem. To solve issues like racism (sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc., etc.), we need to shed our political labels and have hard conversations.

Mainstream liberalism has proven time and again that it is okay to protest and stand up in the name of Black lives at conservative events, but when those protest fly in the face of liberal white leaders, it’s gone too far. That, my friends, is what you call hypocrisy.

During the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. often talked about the subtle racism of Northern white liberals and how it was just as dangerous as the segregationist attitudes in the South. He recognized that people can contribute to racism regardless of being liberal or conservative; Democrat or Republican; Confederate Flag waving KKK member or self-professed ally.

In order to realize equality, justice, and every other right we are promised in this country, we must look beyond the narrow scope of the mainstream. We must seek common ground with people outside of the framework of Washington, DC and Augusta . We must put integrity above all else if we are going realize the dream Dr. King described on the steps of the Lincoln Monument fifty-three short years ago.


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