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.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support.

 

Primetime Blackness and White Discomfort

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. – James Baldwin 

America is a nation in the midst of seismic change—a change so great that it threatens the very soul of this nation and, to be honest, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The creation of America is the result of whiteness centering itself as the norm. Whiteness as an ideology and as a people created a system that disproportionately favored whites while creating laws and policies that actively oppressed and discriminated others and while that uncomfortable truth is a bitter pill to swallow, we are all living with the aftermath of decisions made long ago.

To be white in America in 2016 is to have the privilege to choose whether to engage on matters of race. For people of color, our proximity to white skin often determines how much latitude we have in choosing to avoid matters of race. Personally, as the daughter of an Arkansas sharecropper’s son, race is has never been an optional discussion for me. My first awareness of race and the notion that this brown skin I wear could be seen as a negative by some occurred when I was around 4 or so.

There are few topics that make White America as a collective squirm as talking about racism and race outside of a white lens. It’s not nice, it’s not polite, it doesn’t feel good. For some, it’s a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that the sins of the past still affect the lives of today, for some it’s a fear of fumbling and offending and coming across as racist. For others, they are so steeped in the silo of whiteness that they are unaware of just how unaware they are on matters of race. After all, to be white in certain segments of America means you can live your entire life with little to no interaction with people of color except as something to be consumed through the media.

Which is why when unbridled, unabashed Blackness and joy of Blackness meets up with one of America’s biggest events, the tensions flow and people will do everything to avoid naming their reality. Millions tuned in to see this weekend’s Super Bowl 50; even for the un-sports folks like myself, the Super Bowl is a time to nosh on treats, watch the latest commercials and enjoy the halftime show.

Well, this year’s halftime show was a bit more than some could handle but that’s okay because it was a public declaration of a piece of American history that is often hidden and our collective wholeness as a nation requires that a change occur. It is time for a full embrace of all Americans in all their very unique experiences, even if they aren’t white ones.

Beyonce, the superstar who makes even other superstars shrink, dropped a new single this weekend and then performed that single at the Super Bowl. That single, “Formation,” is a song that does not run from the Black American experience. It’s an open embrace of them, especially many aspects associated with the Southern Black American experience.  Visually (in the video) she paid homage to multiple aspects of the Black American experience, including our tragedies, and in the halftime show she was joined by a group of Black backup dancers dressed to invoke the imagery of the Black Panthers…it was a Black experience.

I wouldn’t say that I am a Beyonce fan, but with the release of “Formation,” she brought unabashed Blackness to the mainstream. We witnessed Blackness as worthy of being centered in primetime where normally it is the white aesthetic that dominates center stage. As we say in some Black spaces, yasssssssss! I am here for it despite the fact that the backlash was almost immediate.

Since the blessed event and thanks to social media, it’s never been easier to know what people are really thinking and, sadly, for many white folks in America, they did not appreciate having their primetime family experience “ruined.” As @yeloson tweeted on Twitter Think hard on this re:Black hypervisibility: “Servants are supposed to entertain, not advocate for survival.”  Because… that’s what it is.”

Blackness and by extension Black people are increasingly demanding to be seated at the table of full humanity that our white brothers and sisters take for granted. Half-assed laws with a few token players who are allowed to succeed (provided that they assimilate into white norms) is no longer enough. We are the descendants of those enslaved people who were forced against their will to build this great nation and we carry that pain, that strength and that grit in our souls. Our stories and our lives are just as American as anyone else’s and if our truths and our ways offend than that is not our problem. We are more than marionettes who dance on demand for the white gaze and this weekend’s half time show gave a glimpse into the rich tapestry that is part of the Black American experience.

Growth often requires discomfort, and right now we bear witness to a nation experiencing racialized growing pains that may eventually lead us to a place of true racial equity. But I suspect that the journey will be rocky. As for me, damn, send me a plate of collard greens and cornbread! I do carry the hot sauce in my bag!

—————————————————————————–

This is an independent space that is run on love and reader support, please consider a one time “tip” or become a monthly patron. Your support keeps this space running! -XOXO BGIM

Realities of Scarcity and the Rush Card

Growing up working class in a good year and flat-out poor in a bad year shaped me as a person, and it continues to shape me even in middle age. I have never shied away from talking about my working class roots in this space and even now when I know that this space is well-read, I refuse to shy away from uncomfortable discussions because money is a source of shame for many of us when the reality is that it doesn’t need to be. For many years, my family’s humble roots were a source of both shame and the anxiety that nearly destroyed me. It takes a lot of work to manufacture a reality that is not yours or to live a life of half-truths because you are afraid of being judged.

Growing up, my parents rarely had two nickels to rub together much less any spare nickels to salt away for a rainy day. My parents weren’t financially savvy folks, in part because they didn’t have enough to be savvy with. My mother did grow up middle class but in marrying my father, she effectively turned her back on that life which meant that my brother and I rarely saw any of the fruits of her middle class upbringing. Instead we saw the legacy of my father’s upbringing under Jim Crow which meant my parents, loved and lived for 33 years with little in the way of any safety nets. When times got rough there was food from the food pantry and in one particularly bad period there was time at a homeless shelter.

I entered adulthood with little in the way of understanding how money operated; I was in my early 20s before I stopped cashing paychecks at the currency exchange and actually got a checking account. Even with a checking account, I still made a few mistakes and underestimated a few times and ended up being overdrawn. The cost of not knowing was pretty damn expensive and thanks to a few good mentors and a partner who was patient with me, I learned how to manage my basic money and steer clear of predatory schemes designed to part me with my money.

Yet I have never forgotten just how hard it is to be broke and nowadays, it’s a whole different world for those struggling with financial scarcity. Many of today’s low-end jobs no longer pay with a paper check that can be taken to the bank that the check is drawn. Or, for that matter, brought to the currency exchange where, for a fee, the paper check can be turned into actual cash which one can use to pay bills.

No, we are living in a world that is increasingly paperless which means for the truly vulnerable who are living paycheck to paycheck, they are forced to use pre-paid debit cards which their paychecks are loaded onto. Ideally, folks would use traditional banks and credit unions but in the US, there are millions who are unbanked for a variety of reasons: fear of banks, past fees owed to a bank, low credit scores, etc. It’s not nice, it might not even be the wisest decision, but it’s the reality for millions.

Which is why today when I heard that the Rush Card prepaid card has been locking people out of their accounts, I must admit, it took me back to my own years of extreme scarcity. The Rush Card prepaid debit card is a card marketed by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons as an alternative financial product.  It also seems to be laden with fees and as of right now is experiencing technological issues that are in essence preventing people from accessing their own money.

While this situation may be a joking matter to some or a way to bray about how much smarter they are because they had a helping hand in life or a better start, it’s no laughing matter when you work, are paid for that work yet can’t pay your bills because you can’t access your money. It goes without saying that the typical consumer of a prepaid card probably doesn’t have access to an emergency stash of cash for the unexpected like being locked out of their prepaid account.

America is a place of excess and scarcity where we spend far too much time lecturing the poor for their “excess” without ever questioning the systems that keep people locked into scarcity. The poor and working class often pay a higher price for their money than Jane and John Middle Class will ever pay. Comfortably middle class people often pay little to nothing to use their own cash but the truly struggling are virtually locked into a maze of scarcity with few solid pathways out. It’s always been hard for folks from humble beginnings to get ahead and frankly in 2015, we have pretty much blocked off all the pathways for all except the most exceptional. Jobs with unreliable schedules and no guaranteed number of hours, stagnant wages with the ever increasing cost of living. Underfunded schools that don’t prepare kids for the future, higher education that is increasingly out of reach and the list goes on.

So instead of tsk-tsking and blaming people for their plight perhaps a moment of gratitude and empathy is what we all need along with a commitment to level the financial playing field.
______________________________________________
Enjoy the musings here? Black Girl in Maine is a commercial free zone that relies on reader support, consider a one time gift (If the “gift” link here doesn’t work, click on the “Donate” button in the right-hand sidebar of this page) or become a monthly patron.