Tag Archives: Civil Rights

Obama Speaks Out on Zimmerman Verdict

Obama Speaks Out on Zimmerman Verdict

Excerpt…

Here is the link to the full transcript of the speech.

We Want Justice…Now.

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I read this piece by Questlove today and can’t get it out of my mind.

I recognized the honesty of Questlove’s story because it mirrors so many stories told by African American’s across the socio-economic spectrum…for those who have the courage to listen.

Also? As a 6’2 African American female, I have lived a portion of his truth. Many people are jarred when they first see me as they take in my height. Most of these people are White. Some shrink away from me, some don’t answer doors when I make business calls, and some are just rude and dismissive.

Their dislike, fueled by racism, and real or imaginary stereotypes, is hard enough to bear. But to see fear on someone else’s face because of your race and physicality is always deeply disturbing. It always blows your mind and creates cognitive dissonance. Especially, if like Amir describes, you have diligently worked to craft your demeanor, speech, or appearance so as to be less “threatening”…to no avail.

Like I did, for years, slumping in attempt to hide myself and diminish my stature. As if that was possible. Or, crafting my speech to not sound “ghetto” as if I could separate myself from the shadows of neo-racism. Or, most telling and shamefully, the years that I closed myself off from Black friends because of self hate that I failed to recognize and worked hard to overcome.

Disturbing psychological ramifications are manifold…

– The feeling that you will not be judged as individual no matter what you do.

– The knowledge that to some “people” you will never be “right” (or worthy of human consideration) because they have shrunk your human possibility and potential to fit in with what they’ve been told, taught, or see on some stupid ass reality show.

– The fact that you must find a way of coping with this injustice and work around the people and systems who uphold it in order to survive.

…is a pretty fucking horrible feeling.

I feel Questlove and honestly, I doubt there is a single African American who read this story that did not. I applaud him for the courage to speak on this deeply personal subject, in direct contradiction to his famed persona, and reveal his very human, vulnerability and pain.

No one knows the shoes you walk in.

We love to say that but sadly it’s not always true. Some parts of the human experience are not individual but collective.

And when the Zimmerman verdict was announced, the pain, the rage, the shame, the horror and the sadness seemed collectively shared by Black America. You could read it on social media and hear it on TV, all before the search for equality and justice took us to the streets again.

I have no children but if I did this is not the reality that I would wish them to grow up with. Pain, that they did not ask for or deserve. Realities that they must learn to cope with our be broken by. The psychological scars of racism that ‘post racial’ America would like to pretend does not exist, in order for some to assuage their guilt and for others to perpetuate the system which their forefathers created.

I learned of the verdict on Sunday and spent most of it in a black cloud.

It was NOT just another day…for millions of Americans.

I sobbed inconsolably for the Martin family and my people. Some unlucky person tried conversing with me on Twitter about Black on Black crime and how things would not change until we treated ourselves better. So great was my rage and pain that I nearly imploded. before I could combust I blocked her instead.

My overriding thought was how insane it is that my pain must be the lowest possible denomination of what my ancestors must have felt, in the 60’s, in the 50’s, in the 40’s, in the 30’s…going back to the 18th century.

But America has changed, yes?

It has not changed enough and we must demand for future generations that it does.

50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Updated: Black History Month: Josephine Baker “The Black Venus”

5/19/12 – The tweet below exposed me to an aspect of Josephine Baker’s life that my internet research did not uncover. Color me unsurprised.

Since this post attempts, in some small measure, to reveal the totality of her person, I thought such salient information should be included. Notice that I say salient, not salacious. To me, it is especially important in light of the recent conversation about marriage equality. Sexuality in no way defines, limits, or reveals the measure of a man (or woman) regardless of the judgements of others and what we like to believe is “normal”. Whatever it is that we deem normal, at any given point in time ;).

An excerpt from the excellent blog, “Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters” reads:

“Baker was bisexual. Her son Jean-Claude Baker and co-author Chris Chase state in Josephine: The Hungry Heart that she was involved in numerous lesbian affairs, both while she was single and married, and mention six of her female lovers by name. Clara Smith, Evelyn Sheppard, Bessie Allison, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, and Mildred Smallwood were all African-American women whom she met while touring on the black performing circuit early in her career. She was also reportedly involved intimately with French writer Colette. Not mentioned, but confirmed since, was her affair with Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.”

Read the whole post here. Excellent content.

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Original post 2/7/12

I’ve had a love thing for Josephine Baker since I was in my early 20’s. She encapsulates so many things that I love, the glitz and glamour of the 1920’s, jazz, goofy humor, unabashed sexuality, freedom and exotic beauty.

She was born Freda Josephine McDonald on  June 3, 1906 in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her parents were Carrie McDonald and Vaudeville drummer, Eddie Carson. Her father left the family shortly after she was born and although her mother remarried, there’s was a poor household. Josephine started working early, cleaning the homes and babysitting for wealthy White families.

At 13, she landed a job at The Old Chaffeur’s Club waiting tables where she met her first husband, Willie Wells. She was married four times, twice to Americans and twice to Frenchmen. Her surname comes from her second husband, Willie Baker, whom she married in 1921. Unlike many women of that time, she was always financially independent and never dependent on her husbands for financial support. During her lifetime, she received over 1,500 marriage proposals. How unbelievable is that? 🙂

She left the Old Chaffeur’s Club to begin touring the US with the Dixie Steppers and The Jones Family Band in 1919. True to her comedic nature, she performed comedic skits for them. The next show which they performed was Sissle and Blake’s production of Shuffle Along where she was employed as a dresser. She auditioned for the Chorus girl role but was told that she was “too skinny and too dark”. She learned the routines anyway, which allowed her to act as a replacement when someone was out. Her performance was peppered with goofy comedy that engaged the audience and served as box office draw.

A Woman of Firsts

She was a first to break down the walls, becoming the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture and world renowned entertainer.

Her next venture, La Revue Negre, was a turning point in her career as it took her to Paris. She performed a routine called Danse Sauvage where she danced in nothing but a feather skirt. In integrated Paris, her career thrived as she became an overnight sensation. Next, she performed La Folie du Jour at the world renowned Follies-Bergere. Her act included, what is now known as, the Banana Dance where she wore a skirt made of 16 bananas. And thus, a star was born.

In 1927, she rivaled Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford for the title of world’s most photographed woman and earned more than any other entertainer in Paris. In the 1930’s she  debuted in two films, Princess Tam-Tam and Zou Zou. She also used her wealth to move her family from St. Louis to her estate in Castelnaud-Fayrac, France, Les Millandes. She was beloved of many artists, like Piet Mondrian, and served as an inspiration to famous writers like Ernest Hemingway.

She returned to the states in 1936 to perform with the Ziegfield Follies which proved disastrous. She was reviled by the critics and audiences alike. The New York Times called her “a Negro wench.”

Not Just Another Pretty Face

Josephine Baker is renowned for the Banana dance but she was more than just a force celebre. Her talent and beauty were the things that drew me to her but I had no idea what a significant part she played in our history and I am awed by her contributions. Like many other notable Black figures throughout history, Josephine’s experiences with racism, were transformative, turning her into a lifelong civil rights activist. She never stopped fighting for justice and racial equality and displayed a passion for civil liberties.

She was awarded the Legion of Honor and given a Medal of Resistance for her work during World War II. Not only did she perform for the French soldiers, she also served as a correspondent for the French Resistance, performing undercover work that included encoding messages on her music sheets, and as a sub-lieutenant in the Woman’s Auxiliary Airforce. She was also the first American woman to receive the Croix du Guerre, a notable French military honor.

She fought diligently against racism and in the 1950’s and 60’s frequently returned to the United States to join the struggle for Civil Rights. When the New York Stork Club famously refused to serve her, she wrote telegrams to President Truman and enlisted the help of the NAACP, resulting in a media brawl highlighting the discriminatory practices of such popular establishments.

She was one of the few Black female speakers at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, introducing “Negro Woman Fighters For Freedom”, including Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King Jr. and now Congressman John Lewis  were driving forces of that protest. The NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, named May 20th Josephine Baker day in her honor. She is said to have been offered the unofficial leadership of the Civil Rights Movement by Coretta Scott King after King was assassinated but turned it down.

She adopted 12 children of different ethnicities from around the world and dubbed them “The Rainbow Tribe”. She wanted to show that children of different races could be a happy and whole family. Such generosity may be commonplace amongst stars today but it was unique in that time. She was also a lover of animals, owning a famous Cheetah called Chiquita.

She died on April 12, 1975 of a cerebral hemorrhage. 20,000 people lined the streets of Paris to watch her funeral procession. She received a 21 gun salute, making her the first Black American female to be buried with military honors in France. It does my heart good to know that she remains, justifiably so, an iconic figure and was so loved.

Videos of the Week #6: Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968

Today is Dr. King’s birthday, the greatest moral leader that America has ever known. His name is synonymous with freedom, sacrifice, morality, fearlessness, the power of belief, progress, civil rights and the power of non-violence dissent. His legacy of love, the enormity of his vision, and his selflessness will forever be examples to mankind.  The fight continues and the dream lives on…

 

Videos of The Week #3

I have chosen Ebony Towers Documentary: The New Black Intelligentsia by David Olusoga comparing the state of Black Academia in the US and with us here in the UK for my video picks of the week. It seems especially germane to the national conversation about civil injustice in America. There are 6 parts, I’ve included the first three here.

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” James Baldwin

MUSICAL BONUS – A Night in Tunisia Chaka Khan

The Evolution of Occupy Wall Street & Civil Rights

My brain is working overtime these days on weighty matters but that is surely a sign of the times. *nods to Prince fans* At times like these, it’s difficult to know where to begin because there is no beginning, it’s all interconnected. It would be accurate to say that the volume of this conversation had been grown steadily thanks to Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

Foremost, in my mind is the subject of civil rights and OWS. My followers know that I am an advocate of the Occupy Wall Street movement and may have noticed that I haven’t posted about them in some time. I’ve been weighing, there goes that word again, the issue of OWS, POC and their minimal involvement in the movement. Quite honestly, I’ve been angered by the firestorm of controversy that I’ve seen unfolding in mainstream and social media. It pissed me off because it seemed to be a no brainer.

Simplistically stated, the argument goes this way: OWS was initially conceived to fight against the tyranny of corporations, mass greed and economic injustice PERIOD.

It would be fair to say that there was a very slow initial response, if any, to the trickle, turned deluge, of voices that said their attempts were overly simplistic, exclusive, one sighted and reeking of white privilege. Needless to say, that erodes the very claim that the movement purports to represent the 99%.

There have been numerous responses to this claim:

  1. Talk of race/racism is divisive and seemingly unnecessary as this is a time for unification and solidarity.
  2. Issues of socio-economic justice that affect a specific segment of the population are not part of this movement. Seeming to imply that all is more important than some.
  3. I’ve even heard it opined that It’s too big a nut to crack.

Please note that I cull from a host of comments, Tweets, blogs and posts when citing these as the main responses. I could not possibly list them all but will give a small sample here.

For those who agree with the claims above, I will state unequivocally that you are wrong.

1. People are NEVER divorced from their experience

Asking me to look at life through the singular focus of your concerns immediately predicates a non-reciprocal relationship. There can be no consensus, or the much espoused solidarity in such a case.

Experience colors everything we do. It is unspoken baggage that informs your behavior, and effects your decisions. It is an integral who we are and no one, but no one, appreciates being told that their experience is negligible when attempting to address an issue, particularly one of this magnitude.

2. Race talk is divisive

Only in a racist society would one say that discussion of race is divisive. It is typically uncomfortable for Americans, considering our traumatic past and the current state of affairs, but it is an integral part of healing, empathy and progress.

Any friend whom I can not discuss issues of race with, as an African American, is NOT my friend. You dismiss a part of me that inform the very basis of who I am. It is more than necessary, it is germane to my input as a human being. That anyone would attempt to refute that is insulting and dehumanizing. This would explain why  folks have begun to distance themselves in the face of such close-mindedness, even though they wanted to support the movement. How counter-productive is it to alienate the very people whose support you need?

3. “We are all one race, the human race.”

That is certainly true. Genetically, it has been proven that humans are more alike, than dissimilar, and I will gladly say that I am first a human being. But, I am also an African American woman, a descendant of Cherokee Indians and African Slaves, and a New Yorker, just to name a few things. All central to my experience in the world.

People have attempted to use that statement in a pat way as if it erases all else we are and that is, quite frankly, bullshit. My experience is not the same as a Latina, an Asian, an Irish American, a Southerner etc.

4. An injustice for one IS an injustice for all

To profess that you are standing against injustice and tyranny caused by capitalism, and yet refuse to address the issues of those historically affected for generations by a system of disenfranchisement is more than unjust, it is morally reprehensible. The two issues cannot be separated because one is clearly the antecedent for the other. There is a causal relationship as one reinforces the other in order for capitalism to thrive.

The injustices in the US did not begin in 2008 and anyone who thinks so should pick up a history book. In any historical analysis of colonialism and the effects of capitalism, it is correct to say that the “dominant” group subjugates the oppressed for material gain, be it land, wealth, resources etc. racism is used as a means to an end at it’s very base.

So, perhaps it is understandable why so many people of color are/were deeply offended by any attitude which purports a concern for justice but dismisses our reality, our very history, as marginal. As well meaning as the messenger might be it is a clearly unjust stance. A stance that relies on the white privilege, ignorance of history, our struggles, convenience and a special sort of blindness.

Any struggle for socio-economic justice must address not just the current situation, but the sum of conditions that led to this historic moment in history for the 99%. If it does not, I can guarantee that we will go back to business as usual for the majority, and only a illusory victory for a few, and that is unacceptable. No one wants to risk imprisonment, police brutality, or a criminal record etc. for such a one-sided goal.

Yes, that mean significant changes must be worked for, the abolishment of the death penalty; tackling the giant of the prison industrial complex, constitutional amendments and the like.

It will not be easy but those who join in the struggle for liberty have never walked an easy path. They do what is hard and they do it because it is right. We should not be short sighted as what we do at this moment affects not only us but generations to come.

Wait for it…

I did and I am. I waited to see the movement evolve and listen, rather than just sought to be heard, and it seems to be coming, slowly but surely. For starters, there is the announcement that church leaders are joining the movement and the International Civil Rights Restart which I am very excited about. I don’t think it’s my imagination that a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity has become prominent in our conversations as people have begun in greater numbers to speak out against social injustice everywhere. I can’t wait to see what’s to come…

An Activist Is Born…

What is a nactivist? A new activist, duh. Ok, so it’s not incredibly snazzy but in a world rich with made up words, I felt it was my God given right to give it a try. I will stick with stories in the future lol.

All my life I have regretted not being alive during some past era so that I could get behind some humane cause and do my part in changing the world. I missed the Women’s Movement, African Americans Civil Rights Movement or Ooh la la la The Sexual Revolution. A tragedy of ginourmous proportions. I would have been a bra burner for sure! Of course, the flip side to that would be experiencing the injustice, racism, sexism, misogyny and puritanical boundaries of misguided American society that strangled it’s citizenry. Right.

Still, I would give my left arm, rhetorically speaking, to have been witness to the brilliance of Dr. King, Malcolm X or Angela Davis. We have no great leaders today and it breaks my heart. I am drawn like a flame to the passion, commitment and dedication of activism and yet I am a member of a generation, as has been stated ad nauseum, that is incredibly self-indulgent and stands for NOTHING.

I take the blame that I have done nothing but chatter about social injustice up to this point. It wasn’t because I didn’t have passionate beliefs, or was blind to injustice, but because there has always been something more pressing to do, like living my life. That’s a big thing all by itself and it is frequently out of hand lol. But I would lie if I didn’t say that I always felt a nagging guilt that while I was verbally committed a corresponding action never arose.

This weekend was cataclysmic for me, as well as many others. I can say quite unequivocally that I am sick and tired of being sick and tired! I have the time and I am deeply committed, for once, to something outside of myself and it feels fine.

I was not looking for a cause to champion but the death of Troy Davis and The Occupy Wall Street Movement have captured my attention and seem worthy causes to stand behind.

Ironically, I am, in a sense, a victim of my own words. After my last post, I thought about just how disturbed I am that people are sitting around doing nothing while the world falls apart around them. I do not like the idea of being included in that club. I thought about how disgusted I am that privilege, wealth and class are robbing people of their constitutional rights, civil liberties and is the cause of spiritual death and actual loss of life, in some cases. I thought about me and how blessed I feel (yes, I am a living contradiction lol) to be alive NOW. For all the difficulties that we labor under, what are the odds that I would have been the person that I am had I been born 60 years ago? It never leaves my mind and I know the answer is – not f*cking likely. Which led me to humbly thank once again all who had gone before and a wonderful thing happened – commitment crystallized.

I don’t have children and am not sure I ever will so I can’t hope that they will have some fantastic impact on the world and pick up where I left off. The footsteps I leave behind will be all mine…

In keeping with this I am now a member of Amnesty International & the NAACP. I have donated to Occupy Wall Street and will be in the next march and the next. Send bail money if I get arrested! I have been working on spreading the word to my friends in the hopes that they too will be nactivists and I have volunteered, egads, to help with articles for Occupy The Nation whose purpose is to bring attention to the national movement which is growing at a phenomenally fast rate. Very cool.

There are detractors out there who say that #OWS is doomed to fail because it lacks structure, lacks a leader, is disorganized, blah blah blah. I would like to ask them what they are doing to make a change and ask them to acknowledge what it does have…a growing chorus of voices joined in the BELIEF that we can right the morally corrupt yoke that is strangling the heart of present and future generations. Not all, just some would satisfy me. As Michael Moore said, “It has to start somewhere…”

I have been thinking of all of you as I have been Tweeting like mad instead of writing Blog entries lol. I love my Blog community, each and every one of you, for the huge bite of humanity that I ingest each time I read your poetry, joys, triumphs and perspectives. Thank you for sharing in my journey. 🙂

Here are some links to articles and videos underscoring the need for change.

– The Guardian on The Occupy Wall Street Movement

– NY Times article on the Death Penalty – An Indefensible Punishment 

NYPD Police Brutality – Occupy Wall Street 9/24/11

Troy Davis Execution Protests Georgia – 9/21/11