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What James Baldwin Taught Me About Racist Trolls

I love James Baldwin.

As a fellow writer and Harlem native, he is my literary muse. When I first discovered his work, I felt as if he snatched the words off the tip of my tongue and splattered them on the page. He revealed me to myself, reaffirming my humanity in a country where blacks were offered a subpar education, fed subpar food, and left to rot in subpar housing.

Baldwin was and, perhaps, still remains America’s black revolutionary voice.

Raul Peck’s “I am Not Your Negro” is a visual portrayal of Baldwin’s prophetic prose. The film documents his musings on race in America and, along the way, reveals some interesting truths about how fruitful political discourse is on the verge of extinction.

In the film, Peck weaves together archival footage and excerpts from Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript to reflect on the lives and deaths of civil rights legends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Samuel L. Jackson narrates a majority of the script, however there are rare moments where Baldwin, himself, speaks during a lecture at some elite university or while visiting some late-night talk show. During one of these moments, Baldwin encounters a civil rights troll who attempts to underplay the significance of race in America. In response, he delivers a fiery speech that reveals the presence of racism in nearly all of America’s institutions.

“Now this is the evidence,” Baldwin finishes. “You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen!”

Baldwin’s words resonate like a Facebook post gone viral. Yet, unlike the trolls of modernity, this guy actually seemed to get it. There is no name calling in their exchange, no accusations of “reverse racism” or threats of being sent back to Africa. This troll simply nods in a manner that suggests he agrees to disagree.

Sadly, modern intellectual discourse lacks this same level of maturity. Instead, complex theories have been reduced to 140 characters and political debates have devolved into Twitter beef. Trolling is the world’s new favorite past time and it seems we’ve abandoned the free exchange of ideas for the free exchange of likes.

Perhaps most terrifying about the popularity of trolling is what this trend suggests about the future of America. I am deeply afraid that our inability to respectfully disagree will ultimately lead to an inability to coexist. I fear hat if we stop engaging with one another; if we stop opening our minds to different wells of knowledge, we will never be able to solve the problem of race in America because we’d never be able to get to the root of it.

According to Baldwin, racism stems predominately from this troll-like inability to face the facts. In order to solve the problem of race in America, whites, in particular, have to search for the root of it within themselves.

“What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place because I’m not a nigger. I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it,” he contends. “If I’m not a nigger here and you invented him — you, the white people, invented him — then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that.”

“I am Not Your Negro” is currently playing in select theaters.

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Stop talking and start acting against police violence

How many more Black lives can we watch destroyed without justice? How many more guilty cops can we watch run free? In the candid words of Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old black woman who died while in police custody last year:

“It is time to wake up, get up, step up, or shut up.” ‪

Now is the time for us to mobilize against unjust police practices that are destroying our communities. We need a concrete mechanism to make the police accountable to the people they have failed to serve and protect.

Currently in New York City, victims of police misconduct are directed to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an executive body of individuals appointed by the Police Commissioner, the Mayor, and City Council. Given its relationship with the city establishment, the CCRB is notoriously known for being biased and ineffective. Despite the guise of a fair hearing, the Commissioner has ultimate control over what punishment, if any, gets enacted by the CCRB and the board’s rulings cannot be challenged by the public without new evidence or new witnesses. Thus, victims who file grievances with the CCRB, quickly realize it is a dead end.

The system, as it stands, is not designed to protect us, but we can fight for a new one that will. An Elected Civilian Review Board (ECRB) is an elected body made up of everyday people who represent communities most affected by police violence: people of color, young people, LGBT people, people in public housing, etc. When paired with an elected Special Prosecutor, the ECRB has the power to investigate, discipline, and prosecute police misconduct, holding the department en masse accountable for the abuse. We need organizations and concerned community members (like you!) to make the ECRB reality.

JOIN THE CAMPAIGN TO STOP POLICE VIOLENCE IN NYC! 

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Photo by niXerKG /CC 2.0 

 

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Are we witnessing the genocide of Black America?

“Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.” — Howard Zinn

Today, I watched another Black man murdered in cold blood by the morally bankrupt and, quite frankly, moronic street gang we call American law enforcement. Like most Americans, I watched it on national television with some bemused cable news anchor giving a play-by-play of the events as if he were analyzing some ritual sports game. It has certainly come to feel that way. Ritual. The government-sanctioned murder of black people in this country is nothing new – I know that very well – but over the last few years, I have come to realize that it is not something one simply reads about in history books. It is a living breathing thing, an unfortunate reality of being Black in America and having the audacity to be free. The anchor’s tone was dull and distant, signifying precisely how emotionally detached American values are from the war on Black lives. I thought back to the empathy in this same anchor’s voice just a few weeks ago while reporting the death of an endangered gorilla and I marveled at his seeming inability to have the same compassion for another human being. I watched him wrap up his account of the Black man’s murder and interview a panel of correspondents to debate the ethics of criminal homicide. After a few minutes of bickering, the anchor thanked his guests for their comments and moved on to more “ pressing” matters: the presidential election and the circus that is Donald Trump. And so it was. Alton B. Sterling had joined the countless Black Americans whose lives would be remembered in hashtags and T-shirts, but never on America’s mainstage.

Although deeply moved and infuriated by the news of Sterling’s death, I can’t say that I was at all surprised. I have come to associate Blackness in America with living under the threat of one’s mental, spiritual, or physical death at all times. I expect to see breaking news headlines recounting the murder of a Black person. I expect for that Black person to have been murdered by a police officer. I expect that Black person’s name inserted into an endless stream of hashtags and think pieces — for about a week. And then, I expect for that same name to drift into obscurity. I expect it to be buried deep in the graves of history; a sacred place where I suppose all those of the lost tribe of Africa go when slain in the name of white supremacy. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Alton B. Sterling and as of hours ago, Philando Castile. These are names we evoke in our moments of mourning to somehow commemorate their stolen lives. And yet, no matter how nimble our Twitter fingers, they can’t seem to stop the steady accumulation of names on that list. America’s war against Black lives is arguably at its peak and Black folks have found themselves on the losing end of an age-old battle. We are witnessing the genocide of Black America and it seems there’s is nothing we can do about it.

Race has and continues to be the central organizing concept of American society. So much so, that to be “American” is as synonymous with being white as Beyonce is with perfection. More seriously, whiteness is, and arguably always was, the lens through which American social, political, and economic policy is formed. White supremacy is real, y’all. It is at the heart of every American system. Our education, our history, our freedom, and our lives lay in the hands of these systems. And so long as we allow these systems to exist, Black people will continue to die.

That is, so long as we allow it.

Systems cannot function alone. They do so with the compliance of the people. The people must conform to very specific patterns of behavior in order for a system to sustain itself. There must be some level of obedience, some buying into a system in order for it to persist. And yet, questions of how to dismantle these systems have been overshadowed by a collective fear of what comes after they are gone. No one is quite sure what this utopic future looks like but it is clear: our present system will continue to inflict a wave of terror on Black lives until the last Black breath is drawn.

That is, so long as we allow it.

Photo by torbakhopper / CC 2.0 

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What’s Missing From The Brownsville Rape Case

According to the law enforcement, an 18-year-old girl was allegedly raped at gunpoint by a group of five teenagers while walking through the park in Brownsville, Brooklyn with her estranged father.

According to her father, he fled the scene at the gunman’s orders and after denied access to a telephone by several local bodegas, he found police officers in a squad car and led them to the scene. But, it was too late. The group had fled and his daughter had been raped.

The alleged rapists do not deny a sexual act took place that night. However, according to them,  there was no gang rape and whatever took place in the park was entirely consensual.

So many voices have spoken out to offer an account of the alleged crime however, the most critical voice — that of the victim — has been lost in a web of murky details leaving the public with more questions than answers.

Sadly, the silencing of victims of sexual assault is the chronic symptom of an archaic ideology that exploits and abuses female sexuality. These patriarchal patterns of thinking perpetuate the notion that a woman’s body does not belong to her and reinforces a culture of rape where sexual violence is trivialized and a woman can find herself on trial for her own rape.

“Individuals often talk about the woman,” New York City councilwoman Lauren Cumbo told CNN in response to the Brownsville case. “They rarely talk about the individuals who committed the rape.”

Such was the case, last month during the trial of former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw for 36 counts of sexual battery, rape and other offenses. Not only did the 13 alleged victims who took the stand find their personal histories presented as evidence against them in court, they found their characters being questioned in the court of public opinion.

Some of the women offered brave, albethey brief, statements to the press in the days after Holtzclaw was found guilty on 18 counts and sentenced to 263 years in prison. Still, less than a month after the media circus surrounding the case, the women have retreated back into relative anonymity. Their voices have once again been silenced and their stories have been buried deep in the archives of the blogosphere.

Literary legend and sexual assault survivor, Maya Angelou once said that “there is no greater agony than an untold story inside you.” With up to 96% percent of all rapes never reported to the authorities , countless survivors find themselves in excruciating emotional and psychological pain. Until we create a culture that respects the female body with the same voracity that scrutinizes it, these women will never be taken out of their misery.

There’s a chorus of voices just waiting to be heard. All we have to do is listen.

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Photo by Jordan Confino /CC BY 2.0

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The New Year’s Resolution Every Black Woman Should Make

resizeimageBeing Black in America is no easy feat, but to be Black and a woman is a unique dilemma.

African American women bear the double disadvantage of racism and sexism, making them prime targets for both racial terrorism and gender-based violence

According to a report by The Black Women’s Roundtable, no woman is more likely to be raped, beaten or murdered in America today than a Black woman, a point proven sadly accurate in the legion of tragic headlines in 2015. Whether it was Sandra Bland on a Texas highway or Dajerria Becton at a Texas pool, we were bombarded with images of Black Women as victims of senseless violence this year. And with each reported incident, we experienced the trauma anew, persistently picking at our blistering wounds.

As race and gender bias intersect to threaten the lives (and sanity) of Black women in America, it is more important than ever that we prioritize both our physical and psychological well-being. In 2016, there is one resolution Black Women should definitely make: Self-care.

Here are 5 simple ways to treat yo’self in the new year — as told by Beyonce ;).

MAKE YOUR BODY YOUR TEMPLE

Whether you make a choice to eat right, exercise regularly or prioritize sleep in your schedule, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial to becoming your best self. Your body is your temple. Treat it accordingly.

WORK HARD, PLAY HARDER

Don’t be so consumed with your responsibilities that you forget build a life of your own. Be sure to set aside time to turn up and celebrate your accomplishments regularly. If you’re more of an introvert you might prefer to visit an exhibit you’ve been meaning to see or simply set aside time to read a chapter in a new book. When it comes to self-care, it’s the small things count.

GET CREATIVE

Creative arts can be a mindful way to express yourself and, more importantly, DESTRESS. Start a journal or invest in an adult coloring book, but whatever you do, quit consuming and start creating.  

STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES

It is easy to get distracted with the everyday mayhem of bad news, but it’s important not to let it overwhelm you. Take care to find moments to relax and center yourself. Try meditating or signing up for a community yoga class. And, if you’re feeling really fancy, book an impromptu massage or spa date.

STAY CONNECTED

While self-care is primarily about your personal well-being, you don’t have to go at it alone.   It is essential to maintain connections with the outside world in order to foster a sense of support and belonging. Spend some quality time with your friends and family in the new year. You wont regret it. 

How do you practice self-care in your life? Share your routine in the comments below.

Photo by chandlerchristian /CC BY 2.0