NOTES ON SPEAKING THE UNSPEAKABLE IN UN-HUSHED TONES: GAZA ON MY MIND

ACT I – MY INTRODUCTIONS TO OPPRESSION

One of my earliest memories in becoming aware of Oppression came when I was in the 8th grade. I was in middle school, and in my History class we watched a documentary about Jewish concentration camps during World War II. We learned about Naziism, Hitler, and Genocide. I cried. I cried whilst watching images of emaciated bodies waiting to die of starvation; I cried when I heard the descriptions of “ovens” and “gas chambers.” I cried. For weeks, at home alone in my room, I cried.

Shortly thereafter I attended the Bar Mitzvah of a middle school friend. And then I read The Diary of Anne Frank. I felt a tremendous kinship with Jewish people. I felt a strong connection with The Oppressed. I could not wrap my mind around how human beings could perpetuate such atrocities as the attempted annihilation of other human beings.

Part of the affinity I felt was due to my own status as one of the very few Black students in my K-12 schooling experience. I was called a “Nigger” for the first time on my first day of Kindergarten. This would continue to be a daily occurrence until I entered Middle School – then it only happened every OTHER day. When I was in the 4th grade, a male student at my school – a kid named Jessie – used to spit in my face and call me a Nigger every day during recess. When I finally told my mother – who is white – about this daily occurrence, she showed up to my school and addressed the issue with my teacher and principal. I later discovered that when Jessie’s parents were told about his behavior, his father said something like, “If my son did not have to go to school with Niggers, this would not be happening.”

Additionally, both of my parents – my white mother and my Black father, both born and raised in the Southern part of the United States during the Jim Crow era – sometimes discussed the experiences they had in the South, experiences that aided in their decision to flee that region and move to California. For my mom, one instance that stands out occurred when she and her friends came upon a sign in a rural area of Oklahoma or Arkansas (I can’t remember which) that said, “Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On You.” This was an obvious Lynching Threat, but I did not understand that as a child. And even as a college student, when I told my mom that I was interested in attending a graduate program at a university in Georgia, she repeated that story to me – she feared for my safety in the South. I shrugged it off as ridiculous paranoia at the time. Especially since I had not felt or been all that safe in “liberal” California!

But my dad provided more in-depth stories. Some of which were about White Supremacy, Racism, and Anti-Blackness; others were about Internalized Racism, Anti-Blackness, and Self-Hate. My dad did not think or expect much from white folks; while he did not reckon that every white person hated Black people, he was never shocked by stories or experiences that exposed the ones that did. As a dark-skinned Black man raised in New Orleans, he was most shocked and hurt by the fact that so many Black folks had internalized Anti-Black Hate, and that they had wielded it against him in ways that had damaged him to his core.

So I understood Oppression from myriad perspectives. My mom – who came from a white Protestant Christian family with a Christian Minister as the family Patriarch – made it very clear that we were never to judge or persecute people who did not share our religious beliefs. Her grandfather (the Christian Minister) came to Christianity late in his life, and encouraged his family to remain true to their own Faith whilst accepting and supporting folks from other Faiths and Belief Systems. So when I encountered friends at school who were Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. – my mom often spoke to me about the importance of respecting their religious beliefs and customs. I have taken this lesson with me throughout my life.

When I moved to Queens, NY I found it fascinating and thrilling to walk through my neighborhood during Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh holidays and to experience the various religious and cultural observances of my neighbors. It seemed, in my peaceful Queens neighborhood, that all of these religious groups and practices were able to coexist peacefully, and with respect for one another. Every summer I would see signs on light posts about “Alia” – announcements from my Jewish neighbors who were selling most of their belongings and moving to Israel. And then I watched documentaries on the subject. And then I began reading commentary from both Israeli and Palestinian authors about the situation in Gaza.

When I attempted to speak about this in Progressive Circles, I was told that I should remain silent about it – that I could not engage in this discussion without being read as Anti-Semitic. This seemed ridiculous to me; the same folks who felt empowered to speak openly about the European colonization of the Americas, the stealing of land from Native Americans, the abduction, enslavement, and subjugation of Africans in the Americas – these same people would speak in hushed tones about the Israel/Palestine conflict. And in some cases, they would rebuke anyone who made comparisons between this conflict and other forms of colonialism, imperialism, and oppression. All to avoid accusations of Anti-Semitism.

ACT II – ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DISCOURSE

Recently, a Facebook Friend posted an article by an author who identified as a Zionist who believes in Palestinian Self-Determination and in the creation of an Independent Palestinian State. He defined the term Zionism in the following way:

“The fact is, Zionism can be summed up in exactly one sentence: ‘Zionism is the belief that the national homeland of the Jewish people is Israel.’ That’s it. That’s the whole thing. There are Zionists who believe additional things, many of which disagree with me, and some of which I would say are racist, colonialist, anti-Palestinian, and genocidal. However, those views aren’t part of Zionism and there are more Zionists for whom it’s just the one line. Just the State of Israel as a home for the Jews. And when you say you’re anti-Zionist, you’re saying you want the Jews to return to a world where we are a people without a home, at everyone’s mercy.”

Of course, the problem with this definition is that it does not address the methods by which the state of Israel came into existence. It does not address how the land that is now called “Israel” was procured, nor how it continues to remain in that geographical space. And in failing to address these issues, it essentially asserts that anyone who disagrees with these methods of land procurement is interested in relegating Jewish people to a Homeless population where they are perpetually unsafe.

Interestingly, myriad ethnic, racial, gender, sexual, class, disabled, and religious groups are “unsafe” in this world. And most folks who are pro-Humanity and anti-Oppression believe that EVERYONE deserves to live in a Homeland wherein they are free from Oppression and Persecution. But the idea that every marginalized and oppressed group should forcibly move other groups from their homes and land in order to create that Safe Space?!? This does not generally exist in the realm of progressive folks. This does not generally exist in the realm of folks who are pro-Humanity and anti-Oppression. And it is always fascinating to me when I meet people who are against Oppression in every capacity…except when it comes to Israel and Palestine.

The author who defined Zionism went on to provide a brief history of Jewish Oppression over the centuries. This was important information, most of which the majority of Progressive Folks are aware of. But what I could not abide was the implication that because of the centuries-long project to oppress, persecute, and annihilate Jewish People from the Earth – a project which is VERY Real – the State of Israel, as it stands, in its current geographical location, had to be created and must exist by ANY means necessary. That because Jewish people have been so horrifically oppressed and persecuted for centuries, they deserve to claim land and property in the creation of a State…even if that means that they must displace and kill others in order to do so.

I find this notion to be entirely and patently WRONG. The idea that in order to secure one’s safety, it is permissible to endanger and/or constrain the lives of others is problematic on its face.

Imagine if all Black people in the United States descended upon the Southern U.S. and made the claim that because we had been enslaved, lynched, raped, experimented on, exploited, and annihilated for CENTURIES – we get to claim the very land where this occurred. We get to forcibly evict all non-Black folks from this land and partition them off into a tiny space so that we could guarantee the safety of our People. Because let’s be Real: Black People are an UNSAFE population in the United States. We are not safe from the Law Enforcement and Legal systems; we are not safe from domestic terrorist groups; we are not safe from random white folks who see us as threats and thus decide to bear arms and shoot us; we are not safe from media stereotyping; we are not safe from biased news reporting about us; we are not safe from the idea that much of this country views us as sub-human, as animals, as BEASTS that must be encaged, ghettoized, slandered, and annihilated.

We Are Not Safe.

And with that in mind, if I polled various Black communities with the plan to Take Back The South By Any Means Necessary, the large majority of BLACK PEOPLE would laugh me right out of the room. Not only because this task would be nearly impossible to engage; but also because most Black folks would view the idea of oppressing others in an effort to end Black Oppression as inherently ridiculous and counter-productive. They would see it as perpetuating the very same type of Oppression that we would be attempting to combat – making others Unsafe in order to secure our own Safety. Because that is what I would be proposing. And most human beings would rebuke this plan in its entirety.

Apply this same logic to Israel. And you will be referred to as “Anti-Semitic.” This makes absolutely no sense to me.

ACT III – ACTION VS. REACTION

So, every time a white person decides to wantonly take Black lives – and this is happening almost as often now as it did during various other eras in U.S. History – Progressive Activists protest and rebuke these instances, this phenomenon. And understandably so. But there are always a few folks – many of them Black – who make the claim that we choose to focus on these instances of White Supremacist Anti-Black Killings whilst ignoring the fact that Black people routinely kill other Black people. Let me attempt to address why this comparison is so problematic.

Firstly, most crime in the United States is INTRA-RACIAL and INTRA-ETHNIC. That is to say that white people are more likely to kill other white people, Latinos are more likely to kill other Latinos, Asians are more likely to kill other Asians, etc. So the fact that Black folks kill one another – the mythological, media-created phenomenon of “Black on Black Crime” – should not be surprising.

That said, the question then becomes “Why Are Black Folks Killing One Another?” An interesting question, since it is never asked about any other racial or ethnic group, but let’s attempt to answer it nonetheless.

In a nutshell, Black folks turning on other Black folks would not exist at the levels that it does…had Black folks not been brainwashed to HATE OURSELVES for CENTURIES in the United States. If you are not familiar with the centuries-long and ongoing Project to convince Black people that we are an inherently worthless, criminally deviant, and sub-human race, then you need to engage in some basic reading and research. Because this information is not part of the X-Files – it has been written about EXTENSIVELY. When you convince a people that they are worthless; when you convince a people that they are criminally deviant; when you convince a people that they are sub-human; when you convince a people that they are not worthy of living; when you do this over CENTURIES, and you get these notions co-signed by government, law enforcement, medical establishments, and the media (among others) – the Material Consequences are REAL. People learn to hate themselves, they begin to hate others like them, and they begin to devalue their own lives and the lives of their People. This is a REACTION to Systemic Oppression.

Were it not for White Supremacy and Anti-Blackness – two projects which have been actively engaged in since the inception of the United States – we would not have a situation wherein Black people hated themselves and members of their groups. We would certainly have INDIVIDUALS who engaged in acts of self-hate and violence; but we would not have the PHENOMENON that we currently have in place today.

It is entirely possible for one to simultaneously rebuke instances of Black folks killing other Black folks via street and gang violence, AND to make the assertion that these instances would not be happening at the levels that they do were it not for centuries of White Supremacy and Anti-Blackness in this country. Both/And.

The same can be said of most of the extreme acts of violence that have been engaged in by some factions in Palestine. One can simultaneously rebuke Hamas and the violence this group engages in, AND assert that groups like Hamas would not exist were it not for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Violent people will ALWAYS exist in ALL cultures. But extremist groups like Hamas are able to exploit the wanton oppression of their own People, oppression that exists because of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Both/And.

One simply can not discuss extremely violent responses to Oppression without acknowledging that Oppression exists in the first place. Crips killing Bloods is not the same thing as members of the Ku Klux Klan killing random Black folks – both are equally abhorrent, but they are not comparable. One engages in REACTIONARY behavior that is born of Internalized Racism and Anti-Blackness, and the other engages in ACTIVE HATE perpetuated by those who have benefited from structural and systemic power for CENTURIES and who will stop at nothing to maintain their supreme positions.

Similarly, if Israel was not currently occupying Palestine, leaders of groups like Hamas would not have a fertile breeding ground filled with depressed citizens whom they could incite to engage in acts of wanton violence. Media sources make it seem as if the primary issue in this conflict is about Israel attempting to protect itself from Hamas; but most fail to illuminate the fact that Hamas exists because there has been no way from Palestine to protect itself from Israel. The violence on both sides is utterly inexcusable; but one has its foundations in power-based ACTION while the other has its foundations in disempowerment-based REACTION. Not the same. Not the same at all.

In short, one way to successfully curtail violence is to not engage in violence in the first place. But this is a hard lesson to be learned, especially by USAmericans – as so many of us in this country have chosen to believe that in order to keep ourselves safe, we must “Get Them” before they “Get Us.” Futile. Counter-Productive.

EPILOGUE

I have written this – in a somewhat choppy Stream-of-Consciousness mode – with the full knowledge that if/when I publish it I may be accused of being Anti-Semitic; I may receive Hate Mail; I may lose people whom I believed to be my “Friends”; and I may receive Death Threats.

So Be It.

I have grown tired of reading about instances of folks being persecuted because they dared to speak on this topic; I am even more tired of those who speak on it being dismissed as Anti-Semitic and as ignorant of the history and issues. I have spent copious amounts of time researching this history and reading the various sides – and there are more than just two – of this debate. And I have come to the conclusion that folks simply do not get to use their histories of Oppression and Persecution in an effort to abnegate all responsibility – or worse, provide a viable excuse – for engaging in the Oppression and Persecution of others.

I don’t get to do it; you don’t get to do it; States don’t get to do it; NO ONE GETS TO DO IT. And if you want to call me names for saying this, go right on ahead. I am not Anti ANY group of Humans based on their race, class, gender, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, level of ability, etc. I am Anti-OPPRESSION, in ALL of its forms. I am Anti-NATIONALISM. I am anti-ETHNOCENTRISM. I am anti-RACISM. I am anti-MISOGYNY. I am anti-CLASSISM. I am anti-QUEER PHOBIA. I am anti-(DIS)ABLEISM. I am anti-COLONIALISM. I am anti-IMPERIALISM.

But I am Pro-HUMANITY.

And I Will Not Be Silenced.
*****
Salaam.

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Scattered Notes From A Restless Mind: Ramadan & Facebook Respite Edition

“True, This! —
Beneath the rule of men entirely great
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! — itself is nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the Cæsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! — Take away the sword —
States can be saved without it!”

– Edward Bulwer-Lytton, From His 1839 Play “Richelieu; Or The Conspiracy”

The oft-cited phrase “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword” may have been written in 1839, but the idea that words – however conveyed – have more potential to bring about change than violence does is much more ancient. As of late I have been clinging to this concept, even as I am not totally convinced of its truth. But as I feel limited to and by my language, by my ability to write and speak as a form of action and activism, my heart beckons me to believe that even in the face of life-taking, soul-shattering Oppression…my words can make a difference.

And so I must write. Because it is all I can do at the moment. And I’ve got to do something, you know?!?

I am a Sufferer and an Empath. These conditions have been and will continue to be my greatest Strengths and my greatest Weaknesses. I feel and care deeply for and about other beings, even as I have become progressively more reclusive as I age. I spend much of my time in solitude as a result of what often feels like an affliction – I soak up and carry the suffering of others like a sponge. To the point where it can make me physically ill. Ergo, over time I have withdrawn from being a “Center of the Action” type of person and have become an “All By Myself” kind of person. True Confession: I hate this about myself. It makes me feel weak. It makes me feel useless. And it makes me feel lonely.

All that said, I am still here. And while I am here, I can still speak. I can still write. And that is more than many across the globe are empowered or “free” to do.

So I just have a few things to express here – much of this has been said before, much more eloquently, but as I have been off of Facebook (my primary mode of written activism and expression) for the month of Ramadan, I feel compelled to say something. So here goes:

I Am Tired.

– I am tired of Nationalism and Jingoism. In all of its forms. I am absolutely down for folks being proud of where they came from, of their Homelands, of their ‘hoods, of their cultures, and of their People. But Nation States are generally not about The People. Politicians are generally not about The People. And I find it abhorrent that we can critique and denounce some governments as Utterly Corrupt, but others have been deemed “Untouchable.” I can critique the Nigerian government for their response – or lack thereof – to the kidnapping of its nation’s girls, among other horrific issues. I can critique the Syrian government for engaging in atrocities against its own People. But if I critique the Israeli government for its assault on Palestine – and I have read EXTENSIVELY about the history of Jewish persecution and the creation of the state of Israel – I am labeled “Anti-Semitic.” If I critique the United States government for wanton Imperialism, shameless Neo-Colonialism, and the pointed Oppression of very specific demographic groups, I am labeled “Anti-American.” This is entirely problematic. And it clarifies who the Power Holders are on the planet. Well, it does for ME anyway.

– I am tired of passenger planes “disappearing” or being shot out of the air, followed by powerful nations claiming that they simply have no idea why or how this has happened. Lies. Lies and Mendacity!

– I am tired of teaching about misogyny to people who prefer to believe that men are the TRUE victims of oppression on the planet. I am tired of teaching about racism and white supremacy to people who prefer to believe that white people are the TRUE victims of oppression in this country. I am tired of teaching about Christian supremacy to people who prefer to believe that Christians are TRULY the most persecuted religious group on the planet. I am tired of teaching about Classism to people who prefer to believe that they are being “robbed” by the poor whilst the extremely wealthy are snatching the roof from right over their heads. I am tired of teaching about heterosexism to people who would prefer to ignore the vast numbers of homicides and suicides that occur in Queer communities, and instead pretend like a few states allowing marriage equality means that these communities are actually safe. In short, I am tired of teaching factual information to folks who prefer to hold on to their illusions and delusions.

– I am tired of Hopelessness. I am tired of Powerlessness. I am tired of Poverty. I am tired of Materialism. I am tired of Shallow Celebrity Culture. I am tired of Egocentrism.

– I am tired of Police Brutality. I am tired of Military “Interventions.” I am tired of Jingoistic Flag-Waving on holidays that celebrate War-Mongering. I am tired of nations and people pretending that killing other people makes them more “safe” or “free.” I am tired of the slogan “Freedom Isn’t Free” in a country where a large portion of the population remains enslaved on various levels.

– I am tired of Deferred Dreams; of Dashed Hopes; of Misplaced Priorities; of Broken Hearts; of Dead Children; of Disaffected Adults; of Obliterated Communities; of Genocide.

I Am Tired.

But I Am Also Strengthened.

– I am strengthened by those who speak out and actively work against Oppression in its myriad forms.

– I am strengthened by the kindness of friends and strangers.

– I am strengthened by those who don’t just look for the good in this world, but who DO the good in this world.

– I am strengthened by the one or two students in each of my courses who “Get It.”

– I am strengthened by the fact that I have found allies amongst folks who do not share my gender, my race, my culture, my faith, my sexual orientation, my gender identity, my social class, my experiences, or some of my perspectives. I am strengthened by those who are patient. I am strengthened by those who listen. I am strengthened by those who love me anyway.

– I am strengthened by the resilience of children; by the fierceness of freedom fighters; by the bravery of artists; by the tenacity of teachers; by the steadfastness of parents; by the small victories of the common person.

– And when I feel that All Hope Is Lost – and I often do – I am strengthened by the presence, words, big-heartedness, and love of those in my Village. The ones who don’t shun me when I am too sad to speak. They know who they are.

I’m not sure that anything I’ve written here makes sense, and honestly I don’t like engaging in Stream of Consciousness writing because it makes me feel slightly out of control. But the truth is that I am never in control, even when I delude myself into believing that I am. Perhaps none of us are. All I know is that the Suffering I experience over things large and small – there is a reason for it. Insha’Allah, I will someday discern what that reason is. And perhaps someday soon I can embrace my Suffering – and that of others – and transform it into something Beautiful. Perhaps.

Until then, The Struggle Continues.

But it is not in vain. I must believe that it is not in vain.

I will end with the words of the Incomparable Langston Hughes. Because Langston had a way of piercing the soul and touching the heart whilst saying things that mattered:

OPPRESSION

Now dreams
Are not available
To the dreamers,
Nor songs
To the singers.

In some lands
Dark night
And cold steel
Prevail
But the dream
Will come back,
And the song
Break
Its jail.
*********
Ameen.

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Past Is Prologue: Whitney Houston, Black Music, and The Importance of Historical Memory

I wrote this post over a year ago, at the behest of a then “Friend” who was supposed to write a companion piece to it. This person did not. And for some reason, I just let this get buried deep within my Word files. I read it tonight, and I realized how salient it still is. For Whitney.
*****************************

Last night – February 11, 2012 – at approximately 5:15pm, my brother entered our kitchen where I was eating dinner to inform me that singer, legend, and icon Whitney Houston had died. I think I uttered two words before I grabbed my dinner plate and RAN to my room, to my computer, to log on to Facebook. I did not do so in hopes of being the first of my Friends to announce and comment upon Whitney’s death; I did so because I was instantly overcome by the feeling that I needed to confirm this news and connect with others around this tragic loss. Whitney Houston was dead. And I could not believe it.

One would think that I was Houston’s biggest fan, perhaps even President of one of her copious Fan Clubs – this could not be further from the truth. In fact, I’ve rarely thought about her as of late, and had even actively avoided reading recent commentary that I had seen posted about her. But upon hearing of her death, I was affected on a level that was both visceral and deep. Moreover, upon logging on to Facebook I found exactly what I was seeking – a community of people who were as overwhelmed and aggrieved by her passing as I was.

I was immediately beset with posts from Friends who made statements ranging from, “Oh My God! I just can’t BELIEVE it!” to “This is hitting me really hard…and I don’t know why!” Certainly, Houston’s untimely death was compounded by other recent losses in the World of Music – Soul Train innovator and host Don Cornelius had taken his own life only ten days earlier on February 1st, and the legendary Etta James had only lost her fight with cancer on January 20th. And while Houston’s life was famously fraught with difficulties brought on by her addiction to drugs, I found only a few extremely insensitive folks who chose to focus on the causal factors which may have lead to her death. The People were grieving…HARD. And many of them were not able to pinpoint exactly why this was the case.

Of course, we had all grown up with the music of Whitney Houston. She was undoubtedly a major contributor to the Soundtrack of our collective youth. But not since the passing of Michael Jackson in 2009 had I witnessed such overt mourning, such a tremendous outpouring of grief over the death of a Celebrity. Few of us actually knew Whitney Houston personally, and yet we were all blindsided by the news of her death as if a member of our own families had lost their lives. When I awakened this morning, still gob smacked by this loss, I struggled to understand why the death of Whitney Houston was resonating within me – and so many others whom I know – so deeply. At the behest of a close friend and ally, I will attempt to work through this moment in writing.

What I have come to is this: the death of Whitney Houston represents so much more than the loss of a phenomenal voice, vestiges of my youth, or even the reminder of so many others whom we have lost in the past year. In fact, her death represents something much more profound and deeply spiritual. Her voice – that crystal clear, wide-ranging, utterly beautiful instrument that she possessed – was forged in a rich vocal tradition that finds its roots in the Black church and ultimately in the African tradition of music and vocalization as expressions of celebration, mourning, and humanity. We feel her loss so deeply because this loss represents the strange historical moment in which we are situated – we have lost another performer, a key vocalist, who was able to effectively and poignantly channel the struggle and tenacity endemic to the Black experience in this country. Moreover, Houston was able to channel the depth of emotion, the very soul of those who were descendants of enslaved Africans…those who created and claimed the Black church as a kind of Sanctuary in which they could free themselves from Earthly bonds and celebrate their own struggle and survival. The very space where Martin Luther King, Jr. organized and launched a world-changing political movement, and where Aretha Franklin found her voice; the space where countless Black people found the strength to endure and overcome unfathomable oppression. And more importantly, the space which would serve as a launching pad for spiritually based creative expression that would transform the very landscape of this country and the world, for people from all racial, ethnic, and spiritual backgrounds.

Before the revelation that Whitney Houston had died, the biggest story leading into the Grammys – which airs tonight – was the return of white English singer Adele to the stage. By music industry standards, Adele was the most celebrated and successful artist of the past year. Her youth, attitude, moving lyrics, and stellar vocals took the industry by storm. It is no coincidence that Adele firmly situates herself in a vocal tradition that was forged by Black American artists who came before her, whom she openly cites as inspiration – Etta James among them. And the truth is that there would be no Adele – or the late Amy Winehouse, who lost her own struggle with substance abuse this past year – without Etta James, Whitney Houston, the Black church, enslaved Africans, or Africa itself.

Recent commentary on the success of Adele and her white British contemporaries who have chosen to appropriate a vocal tradition innovated by Black artists – forged in their struggle for dignity and humanity and birthed by enslaved Africans and their prodigious progeny – has been focused more on the assessment that they (white British artists) have now succeeded in reclaiming Black American music, while contemporary Black artists have all but abandoned the form. Of course, there are Black artists – Kelly Price, Jennifer Hudson, Marsha Ambrosius, and others – who have continued this musical tradition…but they do not receive anything resembling the level of distribution and airplay of white R&B/Soul Music vocalists who exist in today’s musical landscape. Because what we don’t want to admit to ourselves is that we are infinitely more impressed with white artists who have been able to channel the soul endemic to Black art forms than we are with Black folks who have chosen to continue this musical tradition. The belief is that while soulful vocalizing comes naturally to Black singers, it is an exceptional feat for white artists to achieve this level of vocal ability. This is why Mariah Carey’s racial and ethnic lineage was willfully obscured from the public when she made her initial debut – it is simply more exciting and innovative for white singers to perform Blackness than it is for Black singers to do so. Such is the twisted irony of U.S. culture, and indeed the western world.

But we cannot – indeed, we MUST NOT – heap accolades upon white R&B/Soul vocalists without giving deference to the ROOTS of their vocal stylings and personas. And we cannot acknowledge these roots without also acknowledging the fact that African Peoples not only served as the economic backbone of the United States (and elsewhere in the western world) for more than three centuries, but have also served as the very SOUL and MORAL COMPASS of the west – and our musical genius and performative innovations have created yet another arena wherein we have transformed the world. Consider English poet, clergyman, and (often overlooked) slave trader John Newton, who wrote the Christian hymn “Amazing Grace”; the story that we have been sold involves him being “forced” by the British Royal Navy to participate in the transatlantic slave trade, and then writing this hymn as a prayer for redemption due to this sordid involvement. We think of the Black church as having appropriated this hymn from Newton; but what if this was actually a reclamation of this song and sentiment? Newton served as both participant and witness to the forced bondage of Africans, overseeing those who were shackled in the bowels of the slave ships upon which he traveled, being constantly exposed to the melodies, vocalizations, lamentations…the very ENERGY of these human beings. Perhaps his “inspiration” came as much from what he HEARD and FELT whilst engaging in this utterly dehumanizing and vile act as it did from his own desire to be forgiven and redeemed because of it.

Perhaps the most translucent example of the force that is Black music in the United States can be found in the three most iconic and revelatory renditions of our National Anthem ever to be recorded – those of Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, and of course Whitney Houston. How absolutely ironic and appalling is it that these descendants of enslaved Africans could so expertly articulate and interpret a song which contains the bogus and disingenuous lyrics: “Oh, Say Does That Star-Spangled Banner Yet Wave/O’er The Land Of The Free And The Home Of The Brave?”

We miss Whitney Houston – we mourn her passing in the very depth of our souls – because she represented more than just a tremendous voice and an important part of our youth. We mourn her because her loss represents what feels like the last vestiges of our connection to a People and an Experience that the United States – and the western world – is beckoning us to forget. This is particularly salient as we are living through an historical moment in which U.S. politicians are actively seeking to undermine and discredit the first Black President of the United States and seeking to return us to a time when Black people were conceived of and treated as mere chattel…and engaging in the warped politics of nostalgia to convince USAmericans of all races that this was a better time for all of us. When we lost Whitney Houston, we lost a huge part of our connection to the transgressive souls and enduring spirits of the Africans who created something beautiful out of the cruelty and perversity of enslavement, dehumanization, villainization, and total disenfranchisement from the American experience. Whether Whitney Houston was aware of this or not, WE are aware of it…in a place that is deeper than most of us are capable of reaching.

Rest In Peace, Whitney Houston! Anedge Hirack, and May Your Barge Reach The West Unencumbered.

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“Society Made Him”: Notes On Mainstream Media Coverage Of Mass Murders

Last week in the Gender & Society course I teach at Rhode Island College I screened the documentary “Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity” which was created by educator and activist Jackson Katz. The documentary contains some extremely important information about the formation and perpetuation of standards of masculinity and the damage that these standards have wrought upon boys, men, and our entire culture. During one segment of the documentary, Katz discusses the spate of school shootings that occurred in the US between 1997 and 1999. During that time, eight school shootings occurred, all involving young male shooters. Katz presents the various school shooters in his documentary, and notes that media coverage of this phenomenon in the late 1990’s neglected to interrogate the role of gender in these shootings; specifically, he shares his concern that media failed to mention that all of the young people who committed these heinous acts were boys.

But Katz failed to interrogate the role of RACE in these school shootings. In fact, the media – and Katz – failed to mention that all of the young people who committed these heinous acts were WHITE boys. When Katz “overlooked” this basic fact in his work, he also engaged in and with the dominant discursive construction of whiteness as invisible, irrelevant, and inconsequential to acts of violence. In doing so, he placed himself squarely on the side of a racist ideological paradigm. This is especially disconcerting to me because around the same time that media was covering the acts of white male school shooters by asking question such as “What Is Happening To AMERICA’S Children?,” they were simultaneously covering acts of violence committed by young Black males which were directed towards other young Black males by asking questions such as, “What Is This Phenomenon of Black on Black Crime?”

When young People of Color kill one another, the perpetrators of these crimes are not described as “America’s Children.” We do not delve into their lives and experiences in any attempt to discern why they may have engaged in these violent acts. Conversely, when a white male engages in mass murder (or attempted mass murder), mainstream media feeds us a plethora of information about their lives, digging into every corner and crevice of their minds (including, in the case of the Columbine shooters, the diaries of the murderous duo) to discover why they committed these acts, what “triggered” these acts, and what they were going through when they chose to commit these acts. These white males are treated as anomalies, as outliers, or as damaged persons who were responding to multiple stressers caused by society.

When men of color engage in these types of heinous acts, we are rarely made privy to their childhoods, backgrounds, or life experiences. Mainstream media rarely seeks to understand why these men of color committed such acts, what “triggered” these acts, or what they were going through when they chose to commit these acts. It is implicitly understood that people of color are INHERENTLY prone to violence. There is no need to ask the question of why a Black man, for example, may have committed a specific act of violence, because we already know the answer: He is Black. And violence is what Black people do. Ergo, when a white male commits an act of heinous violence he is said to be suffering from some sort of INDIVIDUAL pathology. When a male of color commits an act of heinous violence, he then becomes a representative of the alleged COLLECTIVE pathology of his entire race.

Our resistance as a culture to recognizing historical patterns is dumbfounding to me. A quick look back in time can inform us of the LONG history of white men engaging in mass murder and serial killings, as well as genocide, enslavement of other humans, rape, and lynching. My class was stunned when I informed them that not so long ago entire communities of white people would pack up picnic baskets, dress up their families, and head out for the Entertainment of the Week – the lynching of a Black person. While at these Lynching Parties, families would fellowship, cheer, and bond over the public execution of another human being. They would watch with glee as a Black person was hanged, male victims would have their genitals cut off and stuffed into their mouths, and bodies were often burned alive.  White families would take home body parts as souvenirs. And to add insult to insanity, these folks would take pictures of the lynched individual, create postcards with these pictures on them, and send them out to friends.

This is not information I gleaned from The X Files, folks…this is US History! And it is not so far removed from the public execution celebrations that existed all over Europe at one point. We KNOW that entire communities of white people engaged in these vulgar and sadistic acts, and yet these entire communities were never pathologized and presented as evidence that white people are inherently violent. Every crime committed by a white person has been reframed as the act of a disturbed Individual and is in no way linked to their white racial status. People of color, on the other hand, can commit no act that will remain separate from their racial identities. It’s called RACISM…and many of us believe the completely fabricated HYPE that we have been fed.

I already had these oppressive thoughts on my mind when I awakened this morning to the news that at least 14 people had been murdered and at least 50 seriously injured by a 24-year-old gunman named James Holmes at a midnight screening of the film “The Dark Knight” in Aurora, Colorado. I scanned through copious articles about this horrific event, paying close attention to the discourse that was used by media to describe it. The first item of note that I discovered was that no media outlet had – as of 10am on Friday, July 20, 2012 – released the racial identity of the shooter. They have this man, who is described simply as a 24-year-old male, in custody. They know what he looks like. But we don’t. History and repetition have convinced me that if the shooter were a man of color, we would know that – we would be explicitly told the race of the shooter, and we might even have access to a picture of him. Also of note is that the film “The Dark Knight” has not been “blamed” for this act of violence, as films like “Boyz In The Hood” and “Menace II Society” were when acts of violence broke out at screenings for those films. I have no doubt that had “The Dark Knight” been a predominantly Black film, the film itself would have been held up as an exemplar of the belief that media can lead directly to acts of violence.

And the aspect of US mainstream media-generated discourse around this event that most slays me is the assertion that James Holmes was a “lone gunman” and that this act is not “tied to Islamic terrorism.” Interestingly, British media has simply stated that authorities don’t believe this act to be one of “terrorism,” omitting the word “Islamic” from their coverage. Firstly, this act fits the very definition of TERRORISM – it was an act of DOMESTIC TERRORISM. Secondly, US mainstream media is attempting to use the idea that this was not an act of “Islamic terrorism” in a misguided (and completely Islamophobic) effort to assuage public concerns about this event – as if this tragedy would have been worse had it been perpetrated by Muslims, and as if this act would only count as “Terrorism” if Muslims were involved. APPALLING! This helps to explain why very few of my students recognize the name “Timothy McVeigh” – the 27-year-old white male who executed the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, and who was considered to have committed “the deadliest act of terrorism within the United States prior to September 11, 2011.” [Caveat: I believe that the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of African Americans, and ongoing harassment and disenfranchisement of people of color, women, LGBT folks, and folks with disabilities were/are far more deadly acts of terrorism than these two events, but I digress.]

McVeigh – who had known accomplices and was part of an organized American militia movement – was found guilty and was executed in July, 2001. And then he just…faded into obscurity. Few people know or remember his name. There was not a mass movement – by both government and media – to warn us of the very real threat that American terrorist militia groups represent for us. Instead, 3 months after McVeigh’s execution we were overwhelmed by the horror of 9/11 and had established the TRUE face of Terrorism: Islam. And while there are many white Muslims on the globe, it is only those BROWN folks from the so-called Middle East whom most Americans envision when they hear the word “Terrorist.”

Media coverage of events like this Aurora, Colorado Massacre seeks to obscure the realities of Domestic Terrorism in the US by utilizing the time-proven discourse of the “lone gunman” and by insinuating that the word “Terrorist” only applies to Muslims. It creates a spectacle wherein folks are encouraged to be so distraught over this tragedy that they fail to notice the ways in which media has manipulated the story. And in our hyper-emotional response states, we often fail to ask important questions about discourse and representation. But do not allow the media to cajole you into believing that this horrific event was not an act of Domestic Terrorism, or that others in this country are not planning similar acts. As the saying goes, “I Have Seen The Enemy…And He Is Us.”

p.s. I’m Baaaaack!

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For Quick Laughs…Just Compare Him To A Woman!!

Well folks, after a year of media saturation, unrelenting spectacle, and ridiculous hype…the Miami Heat Basketball Club still lost the NBA Title to the Dallas Mavericks last night! I was watching The Tony Awards Show instead (which was fabulous, by the way…best awards show on television, hands down!) but was also active on Facebook and had a running commentary about the game on my News Feed.

When the game ended, the bulk of my Friends’ posts included digs at Heat player LeBron James, who abandoned the Cleveland Cavaliers in an effort to “bring his talents to Miami.” This dude didn’t just set up a press conference or two to address his departure from Cleveland; he garnered himself an entire half-hour show to inform the public. Because clearly in his mind, we all cared enough about him to want to hear him discuss this issue for 30 minutes. Long story short, he hyped himself up then (apparently, from what I have been reading) delivered an incredibly disappointing performance in the championship series. After that…well, he’s gotta take his lumps. I get that. He’s getting his ego checked, and he asked for that. So when I started seeing all of the anti-LBJ commentary flooding my News Feed last night, I felt it was the proverbial Chickens Coming Home To Roost for James.

And then I started seeing a smattering of links and pictures posted to Facebook, four of which I will present here. The first three were created to mock LeBron James and the Miami Heat; the last was created to celebrate Dallas Mavericks’ player Dirk Nowitzki. [Note: Due to technological difficulties, I could not insert two of these links directly into my blog…please cut & paste these links into a new field to quickly view them while I work out this glitch in The Matrix.] Please note the prevailing theme of all three:

First:

And This One:

Now Check Out This Link: http://29.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_llu79iQuYa1qerjlgo1_400.gif

Followed By This Link: http://i304.photobucket.com/albums/nn176/kidconfucius/dirk-dance-o.gif

So here we go, People. The Miami Heat in Drag. LeBron James as a Cover Girl. The Miami Heat as Beyoncé and her “Put A Ring On It” dancers. Dirk Nowitzki surrounded by and dancing with scantily clad women (who look like teenage girls…IJS). The messages are clear: The Heat have been feminized by their loss. They are no better than women, or worse – men in drag. LeBron James has been bitchified. And I can hear the men: “I don’t think of Beyoncé as a bitch!” No…but you do think that a man who would dress up/dance/or be presented like Beyoncé is a bitch. These are the penalties for LOSERS in the NBA. And then we have Dirk Nowitzki. Getting his dance on (in a manly and heterosexual manner, of course) surrounded by scantily clad young women. This is the reward for WINNERS in the NBA. Losers are drag queens, bitches, and gay men. (I won’t even post some of the more overtly homophobic links I have seen). Winners are manly and heterosexual, surrounded by a gaggle of willing women upon which to unleash their post-championship passions.

Yeah, I know…I’m being a bit dramatic(al). Eh, I just watched the Tonys. *Shrug* But the truth is not so far removed from my description here. In fact, there are very few instances of men being clowned, ego-checked, or otherwise disparaged without either women or gay men being invoked to place that final Cherry of Diss atop the Shit Sundae. Prove me wrong about this…please.

In fact, I would like to issue a challenge: Attempt to create and perpetuate ways of ego-checking men without making any kind of reference, allusion, or connection to women, girls, womanhood, femininity, gay men, effeminacy, or emasculation. I’d like to see how many men are capable of taking LeBron James to task – even comically – without somehow invoking any of the items listed above. I’m imagining that this may be difficult, because using images of women and gay men to degrade (allegedly) straight men is absolutely The Norm in our culture.

I’ve heard men make light of these representations in many ways. The most commonly used excuse that I have heard is that they are not degrading women…they are degrading men who ACT like women. I’m too tired today to go into the deep-seated misogyny and homophobia associated with this mindset, so I will need to tackle this topic in another blog. The bottom line is that if the worst thing a man can be compared to is a woman (or gay man), then this tells us what we truly believe about women and womanhood, femininity, effeminacy, and homosexuality in our culture. I don’t know a man today who could have stepped to either Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth and come out of that meeting alive…but whatever. People continue to align behaviors like gossiping and emotionality with women, regardless of what they may have seen in their own homes. I’m tired of men speaking about women in stereotypical ways, then discussing how strong all of the women in their lives happen to be. Really?!? Then why do you still perpetuate the idea that womanhood and femininity are weak?!?

I’m going to wrap this up by saying that as Women’s Rights are currently under Full-Fledged ASSAULT in this country, I will be using my blog to RAGE about the various ways that we engage in disrespecting and devaluing women in our culture. And using women to clown NBA Losers – or to reward NBA Winners – is one of these ways. So check yourself.

And, as always…#grin&bareit

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Stories No One Wants Women To Tell: Re-Membering History, Rebuking Rape, & Rihanna’s Revenge

I believe the year was 1992. I was an undergraduate at the University of Southern California taking a Feminist Theory course with Dr. Nancy Vickers. Another student in the class – a dual Gender Studies and Film major – had created a short film that she had shared with our Professor, which dealt with the topic of father/daughter incest. Professor Vickers screened the film for us; it was painful. No words. No sound. Just images. At the end of this film, the teenage character who was being sexually abused by her father took her own life. After we processed this powerful piece, Professor Vickers screened the David Fincher directed music video “Janie’s Got A Gun,” by Aerosmith. If you aren’t familiar, the song “Janie’s Got A Gun” also tackles the topic of father/daughter incest. And in that video, the teenage incest survivor takes a gun and murders her father. Fincher – who directed numerous other music video masterpieces, but is now best known for films like Aliens, Fight Club, and The Social Network – provided provocative and graphic images to accompany Aerosmith’s scathing narrative. It is widely considered to be one of the most well-theorized and brilliantly auteured music videos in existence. And I don’t remember there being any significant backlash regarding the message of this piece, which was abundantly clear: Men Who Molest Children – Especially Their Own Children – Deserve To Be Killed.

When a man narrates a girl’s incest narrative, all rage is directed at the perpetrator, and the girl avenges herself; when a woman narrates a girl’s incest narrative, all rage is directed INWARD, and the girl kills herself. These are the “appropriate gender-based reactions” to this scenario in our culture. This was a lesson I was taught 19 years ago. And clearly, it needs to be taught AGAIN.

Fast-forward to 2011, and the release of singer Rihanna’s “controversial” music video, “Man Down.” You can watch the video and glean the subject matter here:

So let me get this straight: people are up in arms because they feel that Rihanna is promoting and condoning murder (the murder of her rapist), and they want the video pulled…but male artists have, for YEARS, produced music videos promoting murder (for no discernible reason whatsoever) with little recourse?!? GTFOH with that!! Eminem can write a song and produce a video wherein he brags about murdering the mother of his child – and folks call him “Genius.” But Rihanna enters into an ALREADY ONGOING conversation about female rage and vengeance fantasies…and she is promoting murder?!? I have HAD IT with this bullshit double-standard, people. And speaking of Eminem AND Rihanna, MTV seemed to have no problem airing their video “Love The Way You Lie” – which is chock full of graphic and sexualized violence. But again, since a man is the narrator of this piece – and since both Rihanna and Megan Fox are present as the obligatory “eye candy” (and let’s not forget one of the HOBBITS from Lord of the Rings!) – this video gets a free pass:

Consider this: If men were more likely to be raped, and/or if male survivors of rape chose to write a song and make a video wherein they murdered the man who raped them…do you think anyone would have a problem with that?!? I have had male students admit to me that they believe they are well within their rights to KILL a Transwoman if they have KISSED her without knowing she was born biologically male. IMAGINE how men could go on murderous lyrical rants if rape was something they had to fear on a daily basis, or if their rapist went free?!?

Murder is all over music videos. It’s just that when men are the perpetrators, no one complains.

To add insult to injury, folks are acting like Rihanna is the first female artist in existence to ever cover female homicidal fantasy in songs and music videos. Female Blues artists of the 1920’s routinely wrote and performed songs about killing abusive and/or philandering lovers. But we have also experienced this phenomenon in the last several decades and I feel that I need to share a few of these gems. At least two of these music videos were banned (either by MTV or by other music video channels) and all have sparked controversy and conversation. I won’t ramble on about this, but will end by reiterating two points: (1) Men have been able to explore and enact homicidal fantasies in music videos for YEARS, but when women do so we have “crossed a line.” (2) We have such short memories in this culture that folks are acting like Rihanna broke new and taboo ground with this music video. She did not. Please check out these four OTHER songs/videos by female artists over the last two decades that engage issues of female homicidal/vengeance fantasies:

From 1991:

From 1992:

From 1999:

From 2000:

And let’s not forget – it is the 20-year-anniversary of the film Thelma & Louise. Once again though, this film was written by a woman (screenwriter Callie Khouri) but auteured/directed by a man (Ridley Scott). We just accept these stories better when men control the telling of them.

As always…#grin&bareit

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A Few Reasons To Believe The World May End On May 21, 2011 – And How You Can See The Silver Lining At The End Of The Apocalypse

Just A Few Thoughts…

(1) We have now entered The Final Countdown…toward Oprah Winfrey’s last show! Specifically, her show ends on Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Now let me be perfectly clear: The dude who came up with this prediction (I’m omitting his name to protect the ignorant, but you can Google it on your own, if you want) was perfectly clear that The Rapture would START on the 21st. As you should be well aware (from watching both the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series of films), epic battles between Good and Evil can last for DAYS. In this case, I am predicting about four days. The World Will End When Oprah Winfrey Shuts Off Her Mic On Wednesday, May 25, 2001 At Approximately 5:01pm EST. Be Prepared. Because if Oprah has to go…she is taking ALL of us with her!!

 

(2) Very few friends of mine will be able to eat in the next few years once their Student Loans come due. The Rapture taking place this weekend would serve two purposes in this regard: to save us from having to face starvation and homelessness as a result of our decision to become Educated People, and to completely screw Sallie Mae and all of the other lenders…and especially the CFOs who head them. And the U.S. Government as well. EDUCATION…SHOULD BE FREE!!

(3) I can’t take another season of The Bachelorette, American Idol, Real Housewives of Wherever, or one of the many Reality TV shows dedicated to promoting and reifying every messed up stereotype that has ever been created about any type of human being in existence. Hell would be better than having to endure another season of one of these shows. [Not that I’m planning on going there…just pointing out a perk for those of you who will!]

(4) No one will have to endure the 2012 Presidential Campaign & Election. ‘Nuff Said.

(5) I’d like the World to end before all of the Law & Orders are off the air. Because when that happens, my world will be ending, OK?!?

(6) Who shot JFK?!? Did we *really* go to the Moon?!? Did OJ do it?!? Was AIDS created by the US Government?!? Is Sarah Palin from this PLANET?!? Can you tell me, in 10 words or less, EXACTLY how to get to Sesame Street? Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?!? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?!? <— Methinks that all of these questions – and many more – will be answered at some point during The Rapture.

^^ How The Hell Do You Get There?!?^^

(7) No one needs to be traumatized by the realization that Justin Bieber never ages. I’m not sure we’re quite “there” yet with Android Acceptance.

(8) The wealthiest 2% will be forced to fit a camel through the eye of a needle as their price for getting into heaven. The rest of us will get to watch as these assholes attempt to renegotiate their contracts with Satan instead. Fun will be had by ALL.

(9) I’d like to taste Manna from Heaven. I’m hoping that some of that falls before it’s all said and done, because I have been wondering what that stuff tastes like for YEARS!!

(10) Finally: I cannot WAIT until God finally reveals herself to be a Black Woman!! That’s going to be the Game Ender right there!! #f*cksatoshikanazawa

Happy End Of Days, Y’all!! Be Good To Yourselves And Others…Today, And Until The End Of Time!!

And Lastly…

#grin&bareit

 

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