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People who know me well will tell you that I need a keeper. It’s partly my own refusal to stop adding things to my plate (guess who has 2 thumbs & 20 projects), & partly the invisible sign over my head that invites people to tell me things. Complete strangers have told me stories about abortions they regret, relationships they need to end, and on one memorable occasion a very nice old lady told me a story about the time she tried to poison her husband. So I’m used to the things that happen around me. Mostly. Today I met a guy who was clean cut, with a nice smile, super friendly & very much a gentleman in terms of door opening and stepping aside to let me board first.

The first few minutes of our conversation while we were waiting for the bus were the kind of pleasant chit chat you get when people establish that they have military service in common. Some ribbing about our respective branches, a little chatter about the weather, you know just the basics. Then we got on the bus, he sat next to me (I really have to stop using window seats), and kept on talking. He mentioned that his discharge was other than honorable, and when I guessed that it was for fighting he started to nod along, then he shook his head. I think I asked him what it was for, or at least alluded to being curious and he got really quiet.

Now let me say that at no point in this conversation did I feel threatened. He led with smiles and handshakes, he was polite, never once invaded my space, and in fact didn’t even give me a bad feeling. So when he started talking about the party he went to and how embarrassed he was about why he got out I was expecting something like infidelity. Or participating in a really stupid prank while he was in uniform, and winding up on Facebook or in the paper. It turns out he went to a party at a college kid’s apartment. There was a drunk underage girl, and he “let himself” be talked into spending time in a room with her. And two other dudes.

He didn’t go into great detail, but someone caught them during the act. There was screaming, some non military dudes who were happy to restrain them, and the cops were called in fairly short order. He plead guilty in order to avoid a full fledged court martial, and did a brief stint in jail before being released back into the world. He told me all about his remorse, his guilt, and his sisters who don’t know what he did. He’s let everyone who knows him believe he was just drunk and passed out in the room before the assault. But for whatever reason he really wanted to tell someone the truth.

There was a minimal glimmer of understanding that he was making me uncomfortable, but mostly his focus seemed to be on purging his pain. So, 20 minutes of not quite blubbering (his eyes were damp, he wasn’t smiling, didn’t seem to be enjoying the recounting, & his face was flushed but there were no actual tears), and then once we got to the right stop (we got off at the same place, but were headed to two different places) he jumped up to help a couple of elderly people off the bus & generally acted like a gentleman. Again.It was actually really jarring.

Once we were outside he thanked me for listening, invited me to friend him on Facebook (that would be a no), shook my hand again and went on his way. I went to the grocery store, sent a couple of tweets about it & then decided I need to lay it out all for some kind of analysis. Because I have so many questions. Not just about his urge to tell a complete stranger, but also about the way he did it. When I tell y’all we were having the most mundane pass the time on public transit conversation? I mean it. It wasn’t like we even really exchanged names before he told me. Hell the Facebook thing seemed to be an afterthought because I didn’t start screaming, & there was no indication that he thought about whether or not I’d ever want to see or speak to him again.

I know no one can explain what happens to bring these things to my life, but can anyone explain this dude’s mindset to me? The possibility that he was actually traumatizing me didn’t seem to register. And to be honest I’m not sold that the girl they assaulted was real to him either. He said some things about how he couldn’t tell his sisters because they’d never look at him the same way so I assume they are real people to him. But even that was flat, he showed the most emotion when he talked about what it did to him. And yeah, I can guess some answers but if we’re not really people then why the grand confession?
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I’m a graduate of Chicago public schools. So is my husband. We’re old enough to remember the last time there was a strike. Here’s the thing about all the “Kids won’t learn as much” rhetoric. It’s only the second week of school. They aren’t missing a year at this point. It’s one day. And even if this strike lasts a few weeks, guess what? Kids miss school for holidays, illness, & natural disasters. They catch up. Hell, if parents have the time & access a strike can be a learning opportunity. Hell any break is a good time for some one on one propping up of skills in areas where your child struggles. Kid #1 and I are discussing politics & current events a lot. There’ll be some in depth discussion of history while we’re at it so he can understand how things got to this point. Kid #2 is working on his handwriting & we’ll talk about being flexible when it comes to new experiences & there’ll be reading practice with picket signs. Because that’s how we roll. And I get that there are real concerns about safety & meals for a lot of kids. That my husband & I are fortunate to have family support that makes it easier for us to get through this strike.

Do I wish that things could have been resolved without a strike? Sure. But I am well aware that teachers are looking down the barrel of long days with huge class sizes & requirements to teach to a goal of higher scores on standardized test instead of to student needs and abilities. I am aware that promised raises didn’t happen, and that teachers are spending significant amounts of money out of their own pockets every year. So are parents. And still our kids aren’t getting art, music, library, or computer classes in a lot of these neighborhoods. I am aware that my kids aren’t getting the same amount of time or attention that I got as a Chicago student. In the 80’s & 90’s we thought classrooms with 30 kids was a lot. Some schools are now looking at classes approaching 40 kids to one teacher. I can’t fault the teachers for being less successful when they’re trying to wrangle 35+ 5th graders (all at different levels of ability) into listening to a 50 minute lesson from a workbook that might or might not be recent. That might or might not be effective at teaching the skills the kids will need after testing.

Mind you, I don’t deny that there are problem teachers. My aunt was a turn around principal with CPS for years & the stories she told us about some of the teachers under her would curl your hair. But, tying pay and employment to test scores doesn’t address that problem at all. It’s telling that the board isn’t concerned with ways to get rid of abusive teachers, only with ways to punish teachers for not producing standardized outputs from individuals. The rhetoric around all of this has been about what’s best for the kids. I don’t believe that longer school days and higher test scores are all it takes for my child to have a quality education. I want my sons to have recess, art, music, & a curriculum that gives them room to develop their individual talents. Only one side of this discussion has ever said anything about kids being people with needs & that side is not the board or the mayor. I hear teachers talking about kids as people with needs & so I side with them. For the sake of kids like me, kids like my sons, and for the future.
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It’s funny in a horrifying I might start crying kind of way to think about how many times I’ve experienced extreme sexism/misogyny from perfect strangers. I’m always boggled at how willing people are to excuse their behavior & claim I should have been nicer, or that they’re sick and don’t know any better. I remember a guy tried to grab me on an empty train car in high school, I kicked the shit out of him & ran like hell. For a host of reasons I was afraid to tell my parents about what happened, but when I told some friends about it the next day I remember a girl I only kind of knew shutting down the victim blaming comments by saying “Girls get raped on the train.” and that the way she said it was so *knowing* you know? I never asked for her story. She didn’t offer it either. But then I was already a survivor so I guess I didn’t need it to understand.

Fast forward a few years from that age & I can tell you a dozen more “extreme” stories that happened in between, but the ones that stick out most all have a theme of me being engaged in my life when misogyny dropped in for a visit. There was the guy in Germany who tried to trap me in a dark tunnel with his car (I jumped on the hood & ran like my life depended on it, maybe it did) and there was no conversation between us. He yelled at me in German from a moving car then drove around to bar my way. There was the guy that followed me home from the store one night telling me that he could be a rapist. He didn’t speak to me in the store & our conversation outside consisted of me walking past him & him yelling at me that I was a stuck up bitch. The guy that called me everything but a child of God, because I wouldn’t buy his CD came at me on a bus & no one (including his friend) said shit to stop him. Or the group of men who surrounded me while I was walking with my child that had to be backed off by a neighbor with a gun.

How many times exactly does someone have to be insulted, harassed, or terrorized before the conversation can be about the person who accosted them & not about what else they could have done? Should have done? How many incidents (all with different people, different settings, different responses) does it take before the discussion is about ways to stop the harassers & not ways to respond to them so that they maybe, possibly, if you’re lucky won’t escalate? When do we talk about the culture that not only permits these behaviors, but encourages them & punishes victims for being wary of new people after years of bad experiences? When do we talk about why women are cautioned to be nice, to be patient, to be careful, but never told it is okay to say no & mean it without fear of repercussions? Oh right, those are all hard topics for hard days & folks would rather blame victims than address problems.
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I see a lot of "slavery is over, black people should move on" rhetoric on the internet. And mostly I roll my eyes & keep it moving. But I notice that people who say these things lack historical knowledge. They don't know about the Red Summer in which race riots broke out in 36 cities. The government blamed unions, Bolsheviks, & even the NAACP for what happened since it was apparently impossible to blame white Americans for the lynchings, rapes, & general mayhem that triggered the riots. In fact Attorney General Palmer filed a report that faulted black people for fighting back.

"ill-governed reaction toward race rioting...In all discussions of the recent race riots there is reflected the note of pride that the Negro has found himself. that he has 'fought back,' that never again will he tamely submit to violence and intimidation. "the dangerous spirit of defiance and vengeance at work among the Negro leaders."

Mind you, the Red Summer came after the East St. Louis Riots, the Atlanta Race Riots, some 2400 documented lynchings and countless other acts of violence that didn't receive much (if any) official attention. The Rosewood Massacre, & the destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa followed, and still there was no move on the part of the government to actively change the racial climate in America until the 1960's. Jim Crow laws (in effect from 1876 to 1965) were the successors to the Black codes that were on the books from 1800-1866, and if think that the Civil Rights Movement fixed everything the day separate but equal was legally abolished? You haven't been paying attention. Look at America's track record when it comes to welfare reform (and the mythical Welfare Queen), the War on Drugs that conveniently was more likely to heavily punish black offenders, predatory lending to black homebuyers, treating the pain of black children, & of course police harassment and brutality. America's got a long way to go, and ignoring the past or the present won't fix a thing. You want black people to let things? Stop supporting the systems that oppress them.

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I could be Rekia Boyd. Easily. I can’t tell you how many warm nights have included me hanging out in the park with friends. Just shooting the shit you know? Have we been loud? Probably. But there’s a reason it was an off duty cop “new to the neighborhood” & not a patrol car.

People who grew up in the area wouldn’t call the cops over something as mundane as people hanging out in the park. Because they know that Chicago police can be trigger happy, and no one wants that on their conscience over some hollering. I don’t buy the idea that a large group of black bodies = crime, but I know a lot of people who trumpet on & on about the joys of gentrification do. Lawndale is definitely facing gentrification as the West Loop gets to be the newest hot spot. Garfield Park & Lawndale are right there & full of big cheap houses that could be worth millions in a few years.

So, there are new neighbors who talk about how great the properties are & how scary the long time residents are even if they never quite say why they find them so frightening. The cop mistaking a phone at someone’s ear for a gun? That’s part of the same system of scary black man myths that killed Trayvon Martin. It’s so embedded in America’s collective psyche that we’re criminals that it probably didn’t even occur to this cop that black people could be out enjoying one of the warmest March days in history & that not be a reason to suspect anything more than an impromptu block party. No weapons were recovered at the scene, a woman is dead, a man is injured & has been charged with assault for standing outside on his phone. That’s what it means to be black in America.
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Had a conversation with kid #1 (12 years old), about how to handle himself if he’s been stopped by the cops, or someone like Zimmerman. Somewhere in the middle of explaining how to protect his head & neck if a cop decided to kick his ass (happened to my husband when he was 13), and how to respond if a cop calls him a nigger (happened to me at 12) I had this sudden ridiculous urge to start screaming. I didn’t.

I kept talking to him, and he mentioned racist kids at his school & how there’s one teacher who lets them get away with it, but who threatens to write him up if he says anything back. And I asked him if he wanted us to get involved & he said no because he’d already handled it. How did he handle it? He told the teacher to go ahead & write him up and then they could all talk to the principal about the things she lets kids say to him. She left him alone after that so he doesn’t want me to come wreck shit.

Which…says a lot about my kid & about our family I guess, but the reality is that it’s good that he’s learning to defend himself against the system. And shit like that is why we stay in cities & don’t live in suburbs. My parents moved me to burbs in high school, and it was a lot more than one teacher turning a blind eye to racism. I don’t have any answers for other parents of young black males. None. I’m muddling through & hoping that this can all be life lessons he never needs to use.

But, his 19 year old cousin is planning to come over & talk to him about dealing with the cops because he’s been there and done that. And I just…we’re passing down through the generations life lessons on how to handle/avoid police brutality because it’s just that necessary. And people want to claim that America is post racial, or racism isn’t widespread. How many individual acts does it take to make up a system? How many beatings, rapes, & deaths will it take for that system to be acknowledged by everyone?
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I’ve been tweeting all morning about #rapeculture & #abuseculture, and someone asked me what I meant when I referred to Strong People Myths. I think some/most of us are familiar with the Strong Black Woman Trope right? Right. For those that are unfamiliar with it, it can best be summed up as the idea that black women are so strong they don’t need help, protection, care, or concern. It’s a racialized super human idea that leaves little to no room for real black women with real problems. That myth contributes to black women experiencing higher than average domestic violence rates, & an increased rate of sexual assaults. It is literally killing black women, but it persists & is often referenced as a positive thing despite it denying the basic humanity of black women.

Similar myths flourish inside rape culture & abuse culture and contribute to ideas like “Men can’t be raped”, “It’s her fault for staying with him after he hit her”, “She/he/they didn’t fight back so they must have wanted it” or (and this one is always guaranteed to make me want to throw things), “I would never be in that position” during discussions of domestic violence or rape. The idea that strong people are safe people is perpetuated relentlessly throughout our culture & it ignores not only the reality that anyone can be victimized, but also that it takes strength to survive. It feeds into external & internal victim blaming when people insist that only the weak can be prey. The One True Way To Be Strong So You Are Safe idea is comforting right up until it backfires on people who are victimized.

Meanwhile rapists & abusers have a free pass to continue their behavior since we propagate this idea that only the strong deserve to survive. They face no/limited consequences, get society to do the dirty work of A) blaming the victim for not being stronger & getting the victim to self blame, all while seeking out new victims. It’s easy to say people should have known better before you think about the fact that rapists & abusers don’t usually advertise their intent. Instead they rely on wit, charm, & social pressure to help them find, isolate, & assault (sometime repeatedly) their victims. Then when victims seek help, they know their victims will run right into the Strong People Don’t Get Hurt Myths. Instant insulation from prosecution or social repercussions with the added bonus that the victim will forever doubt themselves!

It’s a sickening set of tropes, and yet it is popular & often lauded as though eternal strength is a reasonable or logical expectation of human beings. It’s not of course, and yes, abusers & rapists are not mutually exclusive or gender specific roles. But they are things that humans do to other humans. That’s it. Every human has needs, desires, wants that they are trying to have met. And everyone is vulnerable to harm whether it be from a stranger or a partner. To pretend that people can be (or should be) omniscient, or that they can’t ever be overpowered is to deny the humanity of survivors. It’s bad enough that people will be assaulted, but to have society continue the victimization is simply ridiculous and detrimental to everyone.
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I hurt myself today. I was on Twitter talking about rape culture & this triggering victim blaming post at VSB. And it triggered the hell out of me so I'm just going to say up front that this is coming from that place. See, I said the things I needed to say, but now I have to say something else & it is too long for twitter. And although I am directing this specifically to black men, overall this is something I feel needs to be said to everyone. Black women (like me) are more likely to be victims of domestic violence and sexual assault than almost any other group (the numbers are also incredibly high for NDN women), and we are out here on the front lines every day. Black men expect us to have their backs in battles with institutionalized racism. And mostly we do. But, we're not seeing a whole lot of return on that investment when it comes to institutionalized racialized misogyny. And that fucking hurts.

Yes, on an individual level some of you are right there in the trenches with us. But some of you? Man look, I know life is hard for everyone of color on some level, but we shouldn't have to worry about being safe from men in our communities as well as men outside our communities. And yes, men are victimized too. I know that, but I'm a woman and I'm going to speak from my experience in this post. Because here's the thing, it's easy to say that women should know better, do better at staying away from bad guys. But, it's not like they're wearing a sign around their necks. And often those guys have friends who are decent dudes. So we assume that they are decent too until they show us something different.

Sometimes they show us early enough & lightly enough that we get out of the situation basically unscathed. But sometimes? Sometimes your boy that you know ain't shit that's been dogging some broad out? Yeah, he proceeds to fuck that broad up the first time she catches wind of a problem. And instead of jumping bad at him, too many of you start blaming her. That's a terrible thing to do. And you know it. Because your boy has already told enough jokes, or said enough off shit that you wouldn't let him near your sister, your baby cousin, or your best friend. So, why is he still your boy?

Real talk, I have some female friends that are messy who don't do half the shit I see some dudes out here doing, and I keep them away from my guy friends. Because they're messy & I don't want anyone I care about to get hurt. If I could I'd warn off some other folks too. But my friends aren't rapists or abusers. People like that don't get to stay in my life. Some of you are friends with dudes who are both. Hell, some of you reading this (whether you admit it to yourself or not) are guilty of those behaviors. And while I'm all for redemption or whatever, I really need to know how much shit has to happen to black women at the hands of black men, before y'all start checking each other? What does it take for men of color to really collectively dig into confronting their privilege & misogyny? We know some of you hate us, now we want to know what those of you who don't hate us are going to do about it?

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First, state your credentials. It’s okay to be a woman, but not a black woman. Their lived experiences are immaterial and can be dismissed as merely anecdotal. Make it clear that you are not racist or sexist, you are merely concerned about their plight. What plight? Well, pick one. Or several. Marriage, children, lack of the above, too much education, not enough education, welfare, whatever you think will sell. It only matters that you highlight their troublesome natures. Whatever it is, you must be sure to make it clear that they aren’t like other women. They are failing to perform in some way that affects the whole of society, even if you can’t quite explain how or why their personal lives are public property. Further, rely heavily on the idea of research that shows the problem is a problem. Never mention exactly when that research was done, or who were the subjects of it. Too much context may unnecessarily complicate the conversation.

Utilize stereotypes whenever possible, preferably ones that tie into the Mammy, Jezebel, or Sapphire tropes. Describe black women in ways that play up their sexuality and remove their humanity. After all they are Other, so their skin is a food stuff, the space between their thighs is mysterious, and they have never ever been innocent. No need to mention virginity or purity, even when speaking of black female infants, your focus must be on their sexuality. If you are speaking of black mothers make it clear that they need guidance, financial support, or salvation. What salvation? Well that all depends on whether they work too little and thus are on welfare, or work too much and thus are neglecting their children. There is no point at which they can balance work and family, because again they are Other and that is not possible for them. They are emasculating and thus unworthy of relationships, or the key to being masculine with their all knowing sexuality that is present from birth. Unrapeable, they can be trusted to raise any children but their own, and are sexually available until they become sexless.

They exist to be support systems, whether for men of all colors or women of every color but black. No need to mention their needs, hopes, dreams, or concerns. They have none, even if they do occasionally speak of themselves as real people with feelings. Their voices are too loud, too uneducated, or simply too aggressive. They are always angry about something, but their feelings aren’t real so they don’t matter. Be sure to specify how reasonable you are in the face of their unreasonable behavior. Write of how you studied them at a safe distance, while proclaiming that some of your closest friends are black women. No need to know anything about those close friends, but their names since all that matters is that you have them as proof that you know your subject, and are not racist or sexist.

Contrast them with women of other races, always making sure to highlight that other women are real women, while black women are simply black. Feel free to make blanket statements about their religious beliefs, educational levels, income levels, and family dynamics. All of it is true because you say it is, and you are the expert in black women, not any actual black women. If they are offended by your words, remind them of your credentials and refuse to engage in a conversation with them until they can be less emotional. Point to their tone as a reason to doubt the veracity of their experiences. After all they are only black women and thus they know nothing, own nothing, and are worth nothing but what you say they are.
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This is a Facebook message I just found hidden in my inbox (sometimes Facebook’s habit of hiding messages works out in a person's favor), from someone named Cameron Baird. I know people usually blot out the names of people who say ignorant things on Facebook. But, so much of my life went on display after Salon picked up my post about my medical abortion that I don’t feel like letting people like this hide from their words. For those using screen readers the image is a racist comment about me & my appearance and my history of medical care that reads:

[Cameron Baird

You the lying nigger bitch that wanted a free abortion? What I can’t figure out is how your ugly ass got pregnant!!!! Your old man blind? Fuck you you lying cunt. How many babies have you left on the floor so far?]

This isn’t the only message like this one I’ve gotten, & for a long time I wasn’t going to post any of them. But time & distance seem to have thickened my skin up a little bit. This is what happens when you are a black woman who blogs about her life & people don’t like what you have to say.
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One of the things I think progressives who ignore history don’t understand is that just like racism is taught, so is distrust. Especially in Af-Am households where our parents & grandparents who have lived through Jim Crow, Cointelpro, Reaganomics, & the War on Drugs (better titled the War on Inner City Communities) talk to us early & often about how to stay out of trouble.

My grandmother had a “I won’t let the white man get you” speech that would curl your hair. And sure, it’s easy to claim that she was teaching reverse racism or whatever. But the reality is that she was a black woman born in 1924 who lost a brother to lynching, lived through segregation, & who had to get off the sidewalk for white people. I mean literally, get off the sidewalk and walk in the street because white people didn’t think they should have to share the sidewalk with black people. Think about having to do that for years.

My grandfather was less verbose, but one of the reasons he came North was his bad temper & complete inability to stay in his place in Arkansas. He sent money down home when they needed it, & we visited a few times when I was a kid. But a running theme in the conversations during those visits was that he left to keep from bringing trouble down on everyone. How would he have brought trouble home? By not being willing to be called Boy & for looking too many white men in the eye.

These are the people that raised me. And sure I went through my “racism is over”, “no one acts that way any more” phase. Then I got old enough to be outside by myself & I learned quick, fast, & in a hurry that racism is alive and well. But I stuck to the idea that it was isolated for a while longer. Long enough to marry a white man from East Texas & have a child with him. Somewhere around my ex defending his grandmother’s use of the word “Darkie” at our child’s second birthday party I figured out that racism is alive & well and perfectly capable of inhabiting people who claimed to not be racist. He had a black wife, a biracial son, & not a lick of concern about how the word darkie could be upsetting to me. Now we’re divorced & he hasn’t made an effort to see his son in years. Not since the last set of pics made it clear that kiddo can’t pass for white.

So, when progressives stand up & insist that race has nothing to do with anything because it’s a social construct, like a lot of Af-Am people my life experiences already have me side eying them. And then when you factor in coded language like “You people need to get off your couches and help us fight”, ” “Bringing up race is divisive”, or “Arrest the crack dealers & leave the protestors alone” I know it’s time to step back. Because race impacts our lives every day & in every way. From educational access to medical care to jobs to housing, our race is always a factor. It’s not just the history that we were taught by our parents & grandparents. It affects us in the here & now, and until it is addressed it will continue affecting everyone.

A War on Poverty, that is a class war, but that isn’t a War on Racism isn’t going to draw too many Af-Am folks out of the places they’ve already built to allow them to weather the storms that are inevitable in a racist society. We’ve learned from slavery, Jim Crow, Tulsa, Rosewood, the Red Summer of 1919, the Watts riots, the Civil Rights Movement, & America’s belief in the lie of the Welfare Queen that we cannot trust in people who are not explicitly anti-racist. That when we fight for our rights, we are fighting for our lives & the lives of those we love in communities that have always been the first to be attacked. So to be called to fight for the health of communities that have benefited from that history of oppression? Not a call that matters overmuch to us. Solidarity can never be a one way street, & until there is some recognition that fighting racism is fighting capitalism, I don’t see any hope of it developing between African American communities & the Occupy Movement.
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I’ve seen a lot of posts talking about OWS, police brutality, race, gender, & intersectionality. Many of those posts include links to the famous stories of police brutality. And those stories are important & should be told. But, by only talking about those stories I worry that we’re giving the impression that police brutality is relatively rare in communities of color. I’ve posted in the past about the cop who called me a nigger when I was 12 & the time my (then) 13 year old husband was beaten up by a cop. But, those weren’t our only run ins with abusive police officers. Experience has taught me to worry about the cops. I think of them as a risk to navigate more than I think of them as people who are here to protect me or my family. My husband & I have already had the talks with our oldest son about how to act when he’s stopped by the cops. Notice I said when he’s stopped.

That’s because I have been stopped while doing everything from taking a walk to grocery shopping to helping someone move. My father in law runs a Medicar service that primarily caters to the elderly who need help getting from their homes to doctor’s appointments. My husband used to ride along to help him out, since it’s a family business. One day they were stopped by the police because some cop decided a white van leaving a hospital on the West Side of Chicago fit the description of a tan truck that had been involved in a robbery in the Loop. They forced them out of the vehicle at gunpoint while a bunch of elderly people watched & worried. When it became clear that they didn’t fit the description? The cops told them they were free to go and left. That’s it. No apology, no consideration for all the people in the vehicle, but then everyone involved was a POC.

Matter of fact, let me tell you about Kourtney Wilson. I’ve known her since she was a teenager. She’s a nice young lady who unfortunately has lupus. Two years ago she had a seizure, her roommate dialed 911 & when the paramedics came (despite being told about her health status), they manhandled her & had the police arrest her. As if that wasn’t bad enough they took her all over the place (two different precinct houses & two different hospitals) so that she was denied medical treatment for 9 hours. Think about that for a second. NINE HOURS after she had the seizure she finally got the help she needed. And that’s a case that only made the local news & the blogosphere before vanishing into the Wayback machine to be dug up by people like me with a reason to know her name. Imagine being afraid to call an ambulance when someone you love needs one because they could be arrested for being sick. Imagine being killed in your own home like Kathryn Johnston or Aiyana Jones. Imagine being harassed or having a gun pulled on you just because you’re going about your day while being of color.

We don’t have to be at a protest, or actually fit the description of a suspect to have a negative interaction with the police. Officers like John Burge have tortured POC into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit & gotten away with it for decades. We know the police cannot be trusted. So, to see the police using pepper spray on protestors, or going out dressed in riot gear to evict them from encampments? Not at all a shock. I know some will say “Well now we know, & we’re trying to fix it for everyone” but you’ll pardon me if I don’t buy that the changes OWS is fighting for will extend to POC. Not when every time someone brings up race and OWS there is invariably a “It’s not about race, it’s about class. Why are you being divisive?” response from multiple people. POC of every class have to be concerned with the possibility of police brutality, & until OWS addresses that reality, how can it represent the entire 99%?

karnythia: (Default)
I can remember the very first time someone called me a nigger. I was 12 years old and in the 8th grade. I was walking from the gifted program at Kenwood high school in Chicago back to Kozminski, my grammar school. I wasn’t alone, there were 5 of us that walked that way every day. Two boys and three girls. All kind of nerdy, but with delusions of coolness ahead in high school. And every day these two cops stopped us, and made us late getting to our regular school. They always asked the same questions, and we always gave the same answers. This day, for some reason or another they were really dragging out the BS & one of the guys with me made a comment about them making us late every day.

One of the cops was a white male who always seemed super angry that we were coming from the advanced program, and he took Larry’s offhand comment as backtalk. Next thing you know he’s got the boys on the ground, and is talking about arresting them. Being me (I was born a smart ass know it all), I said they hadn’t committed any crimes, and that he couldn’t do that to them. His response? He shoved his hand in my face and yelled “You uppity little nigger, don’t you talk to me that way!” It was loud. Loud enough that it drew the attention of an adult in the store on the corner. He came out to see what was going on, and the cops took off.

We’d never told anyone about the daily harassment, and while we were explaining ourselves to the store’s owner he told us to go to school, and tell our principal everything. Our school was only another few blocks away, so we booked it thinking that the cops might show up again. They didn’t. In fact we never saw them again.

I’d like to say they realized the error of their ways, but I suspect that it had more to do with us telling our story, and the principal calling our parents, Operation PUSH, the local alderman, and the precinct captain. Probably in that order, and probably with a threat to involve the media. That wasn’t the last time someone called me a nigger, it wasn’t even the scariest time someone said it to me. But, it was the time I remember the most vividly, because it came from an adult that we were supposed to be able to trust.

So, when people claim that Woman is The Nigger of The World? I want them to remember that not every woman is going to be called a nigger. Trust me, if I could give that word up I would, I certainly don’t want it. But I can’t, and I refuse to pretend that what happened to me could happen to a white woman. I can’t even give a rough estimate of how many times I’ve been called a nigger. Online it happens fairly often from people I’ve pissed off & trolls. Offline, people are less willing to say it to my face, but I know it’s still getting said. I have no idea why it is so important to be able to use that word for some people, but they really want to use it. Okay. Use it.

But, be prepared for possible consequences. I don’t care if you were joking, your black friend is okay with it, you didn’t mean it the black way, or whatever other dumb shit you want to tell yourself to justify it. At best? We’ll all know you’re untrustworthy as an ally, and we’ll probably assume you’re racist. (Trust me, no one gives a shit about your intent when you’re spouting racial slurs.) At worst? Well…you should have health and dental. Really good health & dental. Racism can be expensive.
karnythia: (Default)

My sons are 12 & 5. They're black. Male. Adorable. Sweet. Sarcastic. Silly. Oh sure, my oldest is biracial, but he can't pass for anything but light skinned black male. And he chooses to ID as black. Some of that is probably about his biological father's abandonment & his subsequent attachment to his black stepfather. He's a great kid, who loves life, video games, his family, drawing & girls. He also loves math, science, & reading. Oh, and he's a huge fan of roughhousing with his cousins, his brother, & his dad. I cannot imagine my life without him in it.

My youngest son has communication issues. We're still trying to figure out why, but suffice to say he's very selective about who he speaks to & what he'll say. Drives us nuts some days because he's a chatterbox at home, but often silent at school. He doesn't ID as much of anything at this point beyond his name & status as the boss of all he surveys. He's such a big little person. All curiosity & busyness & giggles. Loves his older brother, videogames, & cartoons. He's a physical little soul, all about the wrestling & the snuggling. He's our little maniacal superstar.

Now, you know a little bit about my kids. Let's talk about what it means to be 12 & 5 and children of color. Remember I mentioned that my youngest has communication issues? He's in special ed for part of the day. Sometimes when he's really upset he can't articulate why he's upset. Fortunately his teachers are excellent & they know just how to handle those moments. But if they didn't? He might wind up in handcuffs. Now let's talk about my 12 year old. He's a smart ass with a penchant for doodling when he's bored in class. His teachers have been known to make him help clean the desks when his markers stray from the page. Fortunately he's never been arrested for it. 

Mind you, these are relatively benign outcomes for children of color who have contact with the justice system. Other outcomes can include false accusations, an increased risk of being charged as an adult, or being shot to death in your own home. Think about that for a minute. Adults of color aren't safe in America & neither are their children. People keep claiming we're post racial, or that racism isn't that big of a deal, or whatever else makes them feel better. But when you have to worry about racism affecting your income, housing, education, healthcare, and the safety of your children? Then it's much more than an inconvenience or a joke. This is my life. This is my sons' lives. This is the lives of millions of families. It's not funny, or easy, or something that can be overcome by pretending it doesn't exist.

karnythia: (Default)

So I've seen more than a few posts lately from people who are in positions where food is scarce and so is money. And I've been in more than a few financially insecure situations myself, so I'm going to talk to you about poverty in America & making it work when you're broke as hell in the United States. First off, apply for food stamps. Yes, even if you don't have any children. If anyone tells you that only people with children, only people of color, only people of whatever background that is not yours, will qualify? Don't believe it until you look up your local laws. Protip: Race is never a factor in qualifying for food stamps. It is down to income, and far more people qualify for assistance than realize it. So, apply. The worst that can happen is that you're turned down.

Now, the actual process of applying for food stamps can be tough if you don't have access to all the bits of proof that they may want. The most important paperwork is proof of identity & your bank statements if you have an account. Most states have applications available online. Fill it out & if you can print it? Do so & take it into the office with you along with your proof of identity, residence, & income. If you are missing any of the above paperwork, that is okay. If you need a copy of your birth certificate or social security card & you cannot afford the fee there are usually ways around that requirement, even if you have to talk to a supervisor to get it done. Also, there are alternative methods of proving identity, income (or lack thereof), & the caseworker will discuss those with you. If you are homeless/couch surfing? Tell them that. Ask for an emergency food stamp interview. When you are being interviewed, let the caseworker lead the way. They know what they need from you & they will tell you what paperwork you need to bring in.

Go into the office early. Whatever time they open? That's when you should be there because that increases your chances of being seen by a person in a position to help you. If you get there early enough & you have birth certificates, social security cards, leases etc. on hand? There is a good chance they will interview you that day. It can take up to 30 days for a decision to be made, but in my experience it's usually more like a week if you have proof of identity with you. Also? You do not have to be a citizen to qualify for benefits. The rules have changed & changed again so here's a handy guide. Minors are always eligible regardless of immigration status. If for some reason you don't qualify for federal assistance, you should check with your county since some places have back up programs for those who do not qualify. Also, if you are eligible for food stamps you are usually eligible for other services like a free cellphone with 200 free minutes a month, & assistance with utilities. Local offices can also point you to resources that will assist you with finding housing or rent assistance programs. The safety nets are imperfect, but they are there & don't let anyone make you feel guilty for using them.

karnythia: (Default)

One of the great things about the internet is how it lets people do things like exchange information. In many ways it has replaced things like the Green Book or word of mouth for transmitting info about places where stopping for more than gas (or stopping at all) wouldn't be safe, where hotels will be welcoming, & where to avoid after certain times/at certain points of the year. Folks pass around info about where to find food/clothes/cocoa butter as well as what job markets are likely to be more welcoming and/or to require you to be a token in fact if not in name. This is important information. And yes, this information may make you feel something...unpleasant when you have to confront our view of the towns where you like to spend summers or where you grew up or whatever. Guess what? I feel something unpleasant when I can't stop to pee for 50 miles because even though Jim Crow is over, no one in my car wants to risk a fight/jail/death because I forgot to tinkle in the last place we saw brown people walking around. Sundown towns had to put away their signs, but that doesn't mean they had to put away their attitudes.

So, as you're seeing these conversations roll across your screen, you may feel a need to jump in the middle & explain how that one family in that one town isn't like that so we shouldn't lump them in with the 35 other families in that town that are like that. Unless that one family in that one town is going to provide me with an armed escort? I don't care about them. I care about the motherfuckers that might think it's a fun game to run me over. And if you think that could only happen in the South? You haven't been paying attention to where all those police brutality cases come up. Or what happens when POC go missing. Here's a hint: Except for our friends & family no one really seems to bother raising a hue & cry over our disappearance.

Now, I know there are about to be some more feelings splattered all over the place because I wrote this post. Feel free to have them. You can even share them with me if you must, but do please give us all a break from your need to get in the middle of other conversations to insist that because your white self is safe in these predominately white spaces all other bodies are safe too. I'm sure you've never seen any racism in that all white neighborhood/town/region. That doesn't mean it's not there, that just means no convenient target has presented itself when you're around.  Now, if you want to do something to change the impressions of these places? Don't waste energy arguing with us to go against all common sense. Go talk to your neighbors/cousins/friends about exactly why POC avoid the places where they live. You know why I advise you to do that? Because it would actually be a step toward resolving the problem, instead of continuing to ignore it in favor of hoping that we'll make it go away. Pro tip: The people who are the targets of bigots aren't the ones with the problem.

karnythia: (Default)
Back in 2009, I wrote a post about race & self-identification and how being Black & X is treated differently than any other form of being multiracial. (The comments were special & filled with wank from someone determined to insist that being multiracial in America is just one overarching experience.) At the time I was specifically discussing being Black & White, but really that whole thing about the One Drop Rule & being visibly of African descent applies to being Black & Anything. Case in point this discussion of the Freedmen, the Dawes Roll, & why so many activists are rushing to insist that Freedmen = All Black with no Cherokee ties because somehow the blood of black slaves nullifies any Cherokee blood that would have been present. There were plenty of people born from the same set of parents, who found themselves sorted onto a different list from their siblings after slavery was over.

Want to guess who was most likely to be sorted onto the Freedmen list regardless of parentage? If you said the people who looked Black? Chances are excellent that you’re right. Now, a basic biology lesson about phenotypes vs. genotypes could be inserted here, but I’m going to assume my readers already know that appearance doesn’t really indicate ancestry. After all, being able to pass or not doesn’t nullify mixed race parentage. Really, you can have a white parent and still be darker than a paper bag. My great grandmother (listed as Blackfoot, but given that she was in Arkansas probably Choctaw) passed as a light skinned black woman to her neighbors. It’s anyone’s guess what she was running from when she married my great grandfather, but the reality is that her children didn’t lose that NDN blood just because they came out darker than a paper bag.

To deny heritage based on phenotype is already offensive as fuck, without then turning around and pretending history didn’t happen. It’s past time the cultural & social baggage of imbibed racism was addressed. Everyone wants to call black activists (especially black female activists) on the carpet for being too loud & not being inclusive enough to be silent. Welp, pretending that you get to turn to us for support, and then engage in bigotry against us and it is a-okay isn’t going to work out. We see you, we know this dance (we’ve already done it with white feminists, LGBT folks, black men etc.), and we’re not going to have our humanity or our heritage denied because you still want to act like blackness taints. And yes, I know you have a cousin, a nephew, a niece, or even a child that is of black heritage so you can’t be racist. That’s what makes this whole argument a sin and a shame. You’ve decided that modern black blood is okay (maybe), but the blood of slave women is not. The history of slavery is uncomfortable for everyone (after all there were some black slave owners too), but coming to terms with it won’t happen as long as people try to pretend that it didn’t have an impact on every aspect of this country.
karnythia: (Default)
A thing I'm noticing in pop culture is this idea that black women can't be traumatized by anything that happens to them. Usually when a female character is sexually assaulted/kidnapped/abused it works to make the audience sympathetic to that character. We certainly see that trope enough in books/movies/TV shows with white characters. In fact such traumatic moments are often used to "redeem" bad girls in popular fiction ranging from soap operas to suspense shows. Yet Tara, Martha, etc are some of the most reviled characters in fandom & are often blamed for the bad things that happen to them.

Tara's treatment by True Blood fandom is a particularly egregious example of this phenomenon. Fans of the show seem to *hate* her for everything she has ever done, ever might do, or ever had done to her. But as written she has every reason to be the flawed angry woman that is on display because awful things are happening to her & around her. So, why isn't that ever acknowledged? Why are there still weekly posts filled with Martha hate despite the fact that she isn't even on the show as a regular?

There's graveyard humor around R. Kelly's ability to get away with his serial predation on young black women. We make jokes about it to push away the pain at seeing it writ large that black girls are worthless in the face of fame & money. But, if art reflects life & life reflects art then what does that say about the way black women are being presented and treated? We know we're human, but does anyone else?
karnythia: (Default)
1. If your biggest complaint about American black women & their activism is that they are so focused on their fight that they aren’t willing to fight your battles? It might be time to examine your internalized Mammy issues.

2. If you think we owe you admission to our spaces & silence while you’re in them? It might be time to examine your internalized Mammy issues.

3. If you think we owe you our time, energy, & passion and you owe us nothing? It is time to examine your Mammy issues.

I’m not here to clean up your mess, carry your spear, hold your hand, or cheer you own while I suffer in silence. I’m not here to raise your children, assuage your guilt, build your platforms, or fight your battles. If you don’t like the spaces that we’ve carved out for ourselves, or the way we run them? That’s fine. BUILD YOUR OWN SPACES! DO YOUR OWN WORK! You want a partner? I’m down. You want a Mammy? Get away from me before I really hurt your feelings.

Newsflash: That Mammy thing? That claptrap about the happy servant overjoyed to leave her family to serve someone else’s? That was just that a convenient myth for racists. Those same racists are still exporting the ideal that we are too loud, too angry, too ugly, & too beastly to be treated as human. We heard it when we were slaves & we heard it through Jim Crow, & we are still hearing it now as we sit at the intersection of racism & misogyny in our own culture.That’s why we’re fighting back on our own terms.

We are fighting a war on so many sides that it isn’t even funny & we already know that many of our so called allies will stab us in the back if it benefits their cause. We have had this fight with black men, white women, the LGBT community, & so many others that I could write three lists. So, if all you have to say to us is more whining about how we’re not making activism easier for you? We don’t care. We’re not going to care. Pick up the tools we’ve already created & use them or go wallow in your misery somewhere else.

Now, please go tell it on the mountain about how I’ve silenced you & let me know if that accomplishes anything for your cause. I’ll tell you a secret…it won’t do anything, but keep you wasting your energy on supporting the same oppressors you claim to be fighting. Address those Mammy issues, address your own issues, do something about some issue somewhere except look at us to fix it for you.


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