Why I Can’t Keep Accepting the Apologies of White Supremacy

Spring-Valley-High-School-Assault-640x394I don’t know how we get to a point where we can have the footage, and there will still be those who feel a need to apologize on behalf of the police, but never the victims. When so many people can justify the video of a cop using the type of force he did on that teenage girl, I’m left with two conclusions: we are putting way too much trust in law enforcement, and we aren’t giving enough respect towards black people.

It is important to note that Spring Valley High School is in the same state that–up until this summer–had the flag of the Confederacy hang in front of the capital State House. It is in the same state where a white man, Dylan Roof, decided to go into one of the oldest black churches and murdered 9 people. When he was arrested, we saw police gently handcuff him, give him a bullet-proof vest, and order him fast food. In contrast, we’ve seen black girls being beaten at pool parties, killed for traffic violations, and dragged out of classrooms. Black boys being killed for playing with toy guns, and black men for selling cigarettes have become events we aren’t surprised by. The double standard of “crime and punishment” is so blatantly racist, and yet all we are patronizingly told “not to jump to conclusions.”

The police officer may have been fired, but I believe that cannot be enough. He may be indicted, and tried, and sentenced, but that can never be enough–not when we are still able to justify such actions for even a minute. When we apologize for police, and claim an underage girl’s behavior (even when within the law) is responsible for violence done to her, we are giving into a racist tradition that never valued black lives. A tradition of state-supported lynchings. A tradition that says: black people have rights, so long as they act as if they don’t…so long as they act powerless.

I don’t think it is fair to entertain the idea that says what type of behavior one shows towards police warrants such a violent response. Those theoretical debates only occur when the person is black, and it seems like society is only willing to apologize on behalf of white men, and thus, upholding white supremacy.

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Star Wars and Liberating the Imagination of What Can Be

finn star warsMy nerd-meter went out of control on Sunday when I saw the poster for Star Wars: Episode VII finally be unveiled, and then later that night when the trailer was released. I won’t say how many times I watched the dang thing, but I can say I’m not sure there is an amount of Star Wars media you can consume until you become tired of it. At least for me, the limit did not exist.

We all have our relationship to Star Wars. I was 6 years old when my dad took me and my cousin to see the original trilogy as it was being shown in the local movie theaters. My mind was  blown by the remastered visual effects, but also by the world it was envisioning. Of course, I was drawn to Lando Calrissian, played by Billy D. Williams, because he happened to be black. At an early age, when black representation was still minimal, any chance I had of seeing someone who looked like me, I was drawn to them. But Lando wasn’t enough. Why couldn’t we have a black Jedi? Two years later I would see Samuel L. Jackson play Mace Windu, head of the Jedi Council. 

It would have been great to see more than just simple tokenism, but to witness a Jedi whose story took center stage and who also happened to look like me. When I would play Star Wars with my toys as a kid (a little embarrassing to admit, right now), I would imagine that world–a world where a black Jedi could be the main protagonist–because at that time, no such world existed. It was my way of coping with the lack of black representation in Hollywood and the world of science fiction. But for a moment, using that imagination could hurt, because actively envisioning such a world meant also acknowledging that a leading black Jedi would most likely never happen. It reminded me of what my own limitations in life would be. I didn’t know all the ways racism could manifest itself, but at 9 years old, all I needed to do was watch some of my most beloved movies to know my skin made me a sideline player.

When I watched the trailer, and when John Boyega, the black storm trooper turned Jedi, raised his blue light saber, it meant more than a nerding-out moment to me, it meant a childhood fantasy–one I never deemed could be a reality–transforming into something tangible.

That following morning I was awoken by the #BoycottStarWars tweets trending around the world. At this point, we all know it was trolls doing what trolls do best–riling up the masses–but when it comes to anti-black sentiments, it can never be just satirical. The damage has been done, once again, whether a joke or not, it shows us how cruel society can be. The idea that  black childhood dreams should be mocked, and our–black people’s–aspirations are somehow deemed deserving to be teased by online trends is enough to know we still aren’t there yet. We still haven’t reached a point where we don’t have to prove the merit of the leading protagonist because the world seems to think he got the gig due to tokenism.

But I will rest in the fact that I am not alone in welcoming new dreams. I will rest in the fact that an overwhelming defense shows that we are all attempting to envision my childhood world. I know there is a 9 year boy somewhere who looks like me who will see a Jedi who looks like him, and so he will imagine himself saving a galaxy far far away without attempting to think too hard, because it will be right in front of him.

Maybe we’ll get to a point where black kids will never have to realize and appreciate how science fiction should be a place to offer alternate realities freed from the oppressive forces their lives have perhaps been restrained to. But maybe I am thinking too wishful, and–for now–should just appreciate a black Jedi with a blue light saber on one of the biggest Hollywood franchises.

Bernie Sanders and the Public Policy of White Supremacy

It’s funny how we like to lie to ourselves, tell ourselves that a country founded on white supremacy doesn’t need to acknowledge that truth head on in order to relieve us of it–racism, that is.

For the last several months, I’ve waited for presidential candidates to openly address racism in all of its violent forms. The news, although many times problematic, has been able to walk a somewhat nuanced path, celebrities are speaking up, and not only have politicians remained silent, but when they do speak, it doesn’t seem based on reality.

images (1)There is Bernie Sanders, who drastically changed his platform on race in a matter of months. In May, as Baltimore was being turned upside down, he reduced racism to being solely rooted in class tension. But after a few run-ins with #BlackLivesMatter activists, he now has a platform that at least begins to address all the facets of race and oppression.

It’s a powerful thing that protest can change the rhetoric of politicians…if nothing else. As I’m watching #BlackLivesMatter activists asserting themselves in spaces that have historically marginalized their narratives, it seems, to me, necessary to apply pressure in order to have your voice heard. We’re witnessing drastic changes in Ferguson, and not from passive resistance, but from confronting institutions head on. Are these the best solutions? I can’t say. But for almost a century, the quality of life in St. Louis area for Black Americans was ugly, and now real policies are being implemented to eradicate that. We can criticize activists for being loud or rude, but when a society has continually tried to silence and minimize their struggle, it seems those are the last methods these activists have available.

When discussing how policy could eradicate racial inequality today, we point to almost a century ago, when some of the most progressive economic policies were passed: those comprising, The New Deal. Many people who look to those times with a sense of nostalgia, and point to Bernie Sanders, or Hillary Clinton, or even the way we once spoke of Barack, as the saviors to bring about the change we’ve been dreaming about, believing that their policies are what can change the current states of affairs.  The problem with nostalgia is that it ignores reality—a reality rooted in negotiating with racists and marginalizing people whose whole identity had already been rooted in marginalization: black Americans.

The New [Other]  Deal

For the majority of poor people at the time, the New Deal was considered a success, but only because it was predicated on racism. You ask a white man in 1930s, his opinion of the New Deal will be completely different from a black farmer living in Mississippi. That should tell us something.

Today, quality of life in the States owes so much to the policies of the New Deal, but the dead corpses of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, the mass incarceration of entire communities, the formation of the ghettos, and poor black schools  are also on account of a legacy of policies, or lack thereof. The only way New Deal policies could pass through Congress was if Southern Democrats—those custodians of Jim Crow—would approve them. Every Act passed during the New Deal had amazing promise to eliminate class and race inequality, but opposition to racial justice was just too strong, and you see that in the rhetoric in many of these laws when you look closely enough.  

When you look at the Wagner Act, passed in 1935, there are two sides. One side shows the evolution of labor relations, allowing workers to form unions at a time when people were being killed for attempting to unionize. However, this all came at a price—black Americans. Originally, the Wagner Act had an anti-discriminatory provision, but The American Federation of Labor used their lobbying power to have it dropped. The AFL used this provision to capitalize on already-existing racial sentiments, to exclude blacks from their unions, and to gain the trust of white workers. For blacks, being denied the security of an adequate safety net meant their livelihood could be manipulated. There was no negotiating their wages, which meant no guarantee of upward mobility. As the standards of labor for white workers improved, blacks’ would remain the same, if not decline.

The Wagner Act was just the foundation for marginalizing segments of society while moving others forward. More compromises would be made at the expense of black Americans. The Social Security Act, also passed in 1935, excluded forms of labor such as domestic and agriculture, whose labor force comprised of up to 65% blacks across the country, and up to 80% in the South.

When we’re trying to understand how all of these policies impacted inequality, look no further than the formation of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), along with Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the G.I. Bill. The FHA, combined with the G.I. Bill, were defining factors in the drastic increase in homeownership after World War II. The FHA lowered the down payment from 50%, to 10%, and the G.I. Bill completely eliminated any down payment altogether for veterans. In addition, the FHA allowed payments to be made over a 30 year period, whereas before it was required to be paid in 10 years.

These policies meant more than home ownership increasing by 34%. They extended hands out to pull the lower class into the world of a middle-class lifestyle. They made the American dream achievable. But neglected to say that it was a dream only achievable on certain terms and conditions, and blackness didn’t fit into that dream. Title III of the G.I. bill was designed to make it easier on veterans, but black veterans were left to negotiate with white officials and banks who had a long history of denying loans for reasons based on race.

While homeownership and suburbs were expanding, many of those newly formed suburbs had racially restrictive covenants that forbade selling to non-whites. As these policies helped whites, at the same time they relegated blacks to specific geographic spaces: namely, the inner city. It was within these urban spaces, the ghetto, that the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) would also decide how money was allocated and which communities would receive the most funding. They would use a color coded system for mapping areas: Green, Yellow, and Red. Green meant the highest priority area, whereas red meant the lowest–little to no funds given. Generally, it was the areas that were largely communities of color which were deemed undesirable, and thus shaded red, a practice which gave rise to the term ‘redlining.’. When we see urban landscapes today, segregated by race, and thus class, we aren’t seeing coincidences. We are seeing what 60 years of public policy– designed to benefit a certain group of people at the expense of another–and what that actually looks like.

Owning Up To Our Past

It’s not enough to have color-blind rhetoric to address issues of class—we have to have anti-racist policies that combat the racist policies that have defined American history. Those New Deal policies weren’t the first. Their legacies came from a belief that Jim Crow was humane, that the enslavement of African Americans was the natural order of things, and that white supremacy should not be questioned.

When I’m seeing thousands of people claiming their support for Bernie Sanders or Hilary Clinton, in the hopes of having radical policy reform, that history is the context that I place these candidates in. How are their words any different from the past? And then how can these policies do anything different from the ones we already fought over?

The answer seems simple: if this country is rooted in racist public policy, then modern public policy must openly confront it. Maybe that means coming to terms with hard truths, and owning up to the idea that maybe this country is not the greatest in the world, and that maybe the wealth of so many wasn’t fairly earned, but predicated on the value of whiteness. One thing is certain: the policies we are hoping to see will never be complete–only when they acknowledge the imperfections from policy’s past.

Guns, Violence, and the Awareness of Never Really Knowing

oregon I’ve been thinking about what I could say, but there is nothing to say that hasn’t already been said, or said more eloquently than I could ever write.

3 years ago this December I started this blog, not because I wanted to be a writer, but because shots were fired–Newtown happened–and there was nothing else I felt like doing other than using words to express what I felt. I couldn’t–and still can’t–explain what type of emotions were going through my head. Writing was my vice, and so that’s what I did.

Several months later, two men deemed it a good idea to bomb people as they were running across the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I remember the news reaching me too vividly. I was in College, with friends at a block party. It was a Monday afternoon and we were caught in the good vibes of the college social life, until we turned on the TV. We saw the headlines, and noticed the finish line, and then I knew that that was in view of my mother’s office. In a matter of seconds, violence took a sobering turn for all of us in that room. Most of us were–or had family–from Boston. For me, it was no longer something I could just point my figure towards and give a single solution like Newtown. It was my hometown, my family–my life. The lines were quickly blurred by emotions. 

The same way of seeing a fight where I grew up. We would laugh about it, our eyes would glow at the spectacle. It was the highlight of the day. But being in a fight? That had a different color. It’s hard to laugh when those blows are coming at your head. When your limbs are the ones at stake, instead of the ones you are betting on, pain takes on a new meaning. Just imagine trying to look at the big picture when you are the picture. It was on April 15 that I learned what that difference really meant. 

Moments have kept coming since then. The circumstances remain the same, but my reactions have slowly changed. At this point, I’m numb to the violence, to the responses, to people thinking that all of this can be readily solved with a singular solution. Maybe we are too used to watching the fight, rather than ever being in one, that we forget there is the chance we don’t know others trauma. 

It’s not just the shootings, or the guns. Maybe it’s a culture of violence. Or how we have always been fed it–the belief that violence is acceptable–and then of how we perpetuate it, and promote it but yet denounce it when it becomes no longer convenient. It’s in our video games, our childhood heroes, and the toys we grew up with. For many, it was how our parents taught us a lesson. Some of us were given a pass to exercise our violent selves growing up, while others are not readily given that luxury.

A culture doesn’t breed violence directly. It relegates it to certain spaces. It says when it is acceptable, and when it is not. Violence is a tragedy in all its forms, especially this one.

Just blaming mental health doesn’t make sense, or gun control. It takes more than just hate or intolerance to make a world of events we are seeing. Maybe I’m jaded, but I’m left curious as to how this can happen so much. Even as we have become so aware to the problem, the problem still persists.   

No other country has this many shootings. And also, no other country incarcerates as many people as we do. No other country has a policing system that hails its tactics from slave patrols. The list goes on of the real list of American exceptional-ism–of what separates us from the rest of humanity. So to say gun control is the sole solution–rather than the launching pad–would be doing all of us a disservice, because we wouldn’t be aspiring to our noble capacities as human beings, because we aren’t searching deep enough. 

I don’t claim to have been in the same fight as the people at Umpqua Community College. To know the pain of the blows they are experiencing isn’t something I can speak on. I’m owning up to not knowing, and maybe that’s the point.