I Paused To Watch Terence Crutcher Die

I was going to do work when I got home tonight. I was going to eat dinner and do some work. I was going to reduce my stress by dealing with my neglected to-do list and tidy up my bedroom. After salmon and salad greens and maybe some quinoa. But, I paused to watch Terence Crutcher die.

I paused to watch him walking with his hands up in the air. I paused to watch him be tazered and fall to the ground. I paused to witness him be shot on the ground, after being tazered, after having his hands up, after being no threat to anyone at all, after his vehicle stalled in the road.

After he needed help because his vehicle had stalled in the road.

A crowd of cops standing around with their guns out like their pants down. A crowd of cops, guns drawn, backing away from what they did. Their murderous fear.

The dash-cam video. Then the helicopter view.

The amused commentary of the helicopter pilots. The grave commentary of the lawyers representing the family. The measured commentary of the family, mastering their grief to call for peace.

I have no commentary. I have not had dinner. I have not done work. I have stalled on the road.

My eyes are fixed. My heart rate is high. My breathing is shallow. My belly is tight. I have been stuck to my seat. I have been arrested in my movement.

Another snuff film, courtesy of the Tulsa Police Department.

This is what lynching looks like in 2016.

This is the sort of thing that gives me pause.

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I Advocate for Hope, Because Hopelessness Does the Oppressors’ Work For Them

A few days ago, I came back from a meditation retreat for People of Color. Today, with all that has happened, I am feeling so much gratitude for the socially engaged Buddhist community at the East Bay Meditation Center and for my meditation practices and the ways that these practices help deepen some sense of groundedness and some sense of spaciousness where these horrific things can happen and can land in a more balanced place in me, somehow.

Today, I have witnessed horrible things that I cannot now unsee. The killing of Alton Sterling. The aftermath of the killing of Philando Castile. And, while there is more equanimity present for it all to land in, I have also been feeling sorrow, I’ve been feeling grief, and I’ve been feeling the physical impact of what I have been exposed to. I have felt the clamping down of my body, the hollow in my chest, the tightening in my belly, the stiffening of my jaw and the tug in the direction of despair and the tug in the direction of hopelessness.

But, there’s some way that it feels more possible, having spent four days meditating really solidly, to turn my intention towards hope and towards faith and towards optimism in this horrific situation when the circumstances are not inspiring hope or faith or optimism. It feels really important to practice the discipline of hope and to find the ways to cultivate and nurture it, even if that is not what the circumstances are inspiring, because the cost of hopelessness on one’s personal being and on our community and our energy and on our effort and on our dedication to the work of making change is too great.

I believe that hopelessness is internalized oppression. It does the oppressors’ work for them. It exhausts, it demoralizes, it overwhelms, it paralyzes. It dissipates energy. It leads to despair. It also leads to depression, to stress-related illnesses, to addictive behaviors, and to suicidal ideation. Hopelessness is one of the precursors to suicide. Not everyone who feels hopeless will commit suicide; but everyone who commits suicide has lost hope. And if I know anything for sure, I know that if White Supremacy or Homophobia or Misogyny wants me dead, somebody’s going to have to do the work of killing me themselves. I am not going to do the oppressors’ work for them.

I will not shoot myself
In the head, and I will not shoot myself
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do,
I promise you, I will not do it
In a police car while handcuffed
Or in the jail cell of a town
I only know the name of
Because I have to drive through it
To get home.

–Jericho Brown, from “Bullet Points

Hopelessness also halts resistance. The powers that be would like for us to believe that there is no hope. That our actions do not matter. That change is impossible. When we believe that change is impossible, it is hard to throw our energy into the monumental work required to change systems of oppression, to educate, to donate, to demonstrate, to activate, to organize, to agitate, to protest, to heal, to inspire, to vision, to nourish, to care, to create, to shape sustainable systems, to change hearts and minds and laws and culture and values. When we are hopeless, it is hard to put one foot in front of another, let alone to launch a revolution.

I do not advocate for hope because I believe that our current situations inspire hope. I advocate for hope because our current situations require hope.

If we give in to hopelessness, we stop fighting and we damage ourselves, instead, and everyone with a secret wish for our annihilation gets their way.

If we give in to hopelessness, we will not do what hope would do to transform the world we live in.

Even if it will take hundreds or thousands of years, Hope says, “Keep going. Don’t stop. We’ll get there, in the end. No matter what it looks like right now, we’ll get there. Keep going. Don’t stop. What you’re doing to help is useful and important. Your small part in this colossal movement matters. Keep going. Don’t stop. Connect with some other people, because change requires us to work together. Keep going. Don’t stop. Do a little more, if you healthily can. Take care of yourself, take care of the world, take care of yourself, take care of the world, take care of yourself, take care of the world. Don’t stop. Keep going. You’re doing great. Thank you. I love you. Keep going.”

Thank you. I love you. Keep going.

2016-06-02 Oakland-2

We Live in a Country in Profound Denial About The Nature Of Itself

I am currently reading The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson (the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism), about the Great Migration of African-Americans out of the South during the Jim Crow years. It makes me shake and cry with every chapter. It makes me feel sick and nauseous and angry and enraged and horrified. Sometimes I don’t have the strength to pick it up. I want to run away and hide from the horror of what happened in the last hundred years in this country – in the lifetimes (and in the lives) of my grandparents and my parents and beloved family friends.

At the same time, I cannot turn my face away. The Warmth of Other Suns is enlightening and it is empowering for me to read it. It is brilliantly written. It is well-researched and engaging. The narrative structure of the work follows the story of three specific individuals and their stories are interwoven with incredible detail of the culture and the history of the time, painting a vivid, poignant, and personal picture of life for black folks in the decades following the “end” of slavery. It explains so much. It explains things that I didn’t know I so desperately needed to understand. As I realized that people I was close to in my lifetime would have been alive during the hellish decades post-slavery (and would have dealt with some of the horrors described in the book, firsthand), I could feel the impact of the events of the first half of the 1900s on my own, personal life. It made my own grandparents and parents and, therefore, my own life experience, make more sense to me.

The book fills enormous gaps in the so-called “history” that I was taught in school. I think that most of us think of slavery as something that happened a long time ago, to other people, elsewhere, and that things got better after that and that now they’re way, way better and we’re really far from where we’ve come. What is astonishing is that slavery and neo-slavery has been happening and happening and its ramifications have been happening and happening, continuing inexorably forward, and somehow we have been hoodwinked and bamboozled into believing that it is all lost in the distant past. It is yesterday and it is today and it is tomorrow. Even now.

In the past couple of years, I have been trying to educate myself about anti-black racism and how things are in the shape that they’re in right now, racially. I’ve been trying to build a bridge in my mind between the Middle Passage and whoever was the last black person to be on video this week being killed by a police officer, extrajudicially. It has been clear that I didn’t have enough of a grasp of the history to connect the dots from here to there.

The more I educate myself, the more I come to grasp the enormity of my miseducation. It is profoundly astonishing to me the degree to which the history of this country has been concealed and the degree to which propaganda about both the past and the present has been fed to us all. Before I began this arduous, painful process of self-education, I could tell you more about the history of British, French, and Spanish monarchs from the Renaissance through Queen Elizabeth, the history of the Spanish Inquisition, and the history of the Crusades, than I could tell you anything about the brutal realities of Jim Crow, neo-slavery, redlining, or the mass incarceration of black people in the United States within the last hundred years. The excellent formal education I have received did not include almost any meaningful detail about the real cultural, structural, institutional, and economic ramifications of slavery and of the hundred years or so since then on this country and on all of us who live here. I am still shocked at the ways in which my education has been corrupted and I feel foolish that I am still so shocked.

Having been raised to believe that I live in a democracy where freedom of speech is the law of the land and the free-flow of information is held to be some kind of birthright, I am still astonished at the degree to which I have been brainwashed. We have been lied to, over and and over and over again and we mostly have no idea it has happened.

We live in a country in profound denial about the nature of itself.

As an individual, it takes consistent and persistent effort to break through that denial. But, it is worth it in order to be sane in the midst of this insanity. Collectively, it will take an enormous amount of consistent and persistent effort, on the part of an entire nation, to burn through that sweet, sticky fog of insanity that has left us as a culture in a stupor of denial and delusion, unable to meaningfully repair the impact of hundreds upon hundreds of years of slavery and systemic, institutional racism because the culture cannot even acknowledge that it has happened and is still happening.

I cannot singlehandedly overthrow this epic, wide-spread denial. I can only work to burn through the ignorance and denial that fogs my own vision so that I can see more clearly. I can share my truth and my meager tools with you and invite you to do the same. Burn through your ignorance and denial, share your truth about it with others, and share your tools.

I am only just beginning to scratch the surface and my research has primarily been concerned with the people I am descended from. There are so many more books and articles to read. There is so much education to do. For me, it has been exquisitely painful, but phenomenally liberating. Waking up to reality is so empowering. I invite you to join me on this journey of self-education, of burning through the ignorance and delusion, of waking up.

A partial list of what I’ve read on the topic of anti-black racism in this country (that I would highly recommend) includes:

Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Case for Reparations (article: http://www.theatlantic.com/…/the-case-for-reparatio…/361631/)

Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow

James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time

Robin DiAngelo: White Fragility (article: http://libjournal.uncg.edu/index.php/ijcp/article/view/249)

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me

Baratunde Thurston: How to Be Black

Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns (I’m about halfway through)

There have been so many, many others, but these are the ones I can remember easily off the top of my head, because they were so useful for me.

The next book in my queue is Douglas Blackmon’s: Slavery By Another Name, but I’ll need a good work of science fiction – maybe something by N.K. Jemisin – or two between now and then, because I need a break between ordeals.

“It is truly horrible to understand yourself as the essential below of your country.

It breaks too much of what we would like to think about ourselves, our lives, the world we move through and the people who surround us.

The struggle to understand is our only advantage over this madness.”

–Ta-Nehisi Coates, from Between the World and Me

The following image showed up in my Facebook feed and it seemed like a good (albeit flimsy) excuse to talk with you all about all of this. Consider the green part of the image a typo. Consider, perhaps the red part extending through the entire part that is currently yellow. Then consider the green part orange, perhaps on its way to eventually someday, maybe being yellow. Green is off in the distant future, someday, maybe, hopefully, if we all work really, really hard on a collective level to wake up.

American Slavery - Segregation

 

 

Recite it the Way Black People Can Recite White People’s Stories Like The Back of Our Hands

Please read: Why I’m Absolutely an Angry Black Woman, by Dominique Matti

I am sharing this powerful article by Dominique Matti with you, because I could have written it myself. Because I share so many of these experiences. Because instead of the parts about having a child, I could tell you similar stories about not having a child. Because I feel grateful that I don’t have to figure out how to raise a beautiful black child within conditions of white supremacy. Because I feel grateful that I don’t have to worry every day that my beautiful black child might be killed or abused by the police or have freedom taken away or suffer the same daily indignities and invisibilities we black people do. Because this is my story and our story and because it needs to be told over and over and over and over again until people who never lived it can recite it the way black people can recite white people’s stories like the back of our hands, stories about freedom, about democracy, about opportunity, about liberty, about justice, about happily-ever-after, stories that were never, ever for us.

This is a Snuff Film, Courtesy of Your Local Police Department

I just watched the police body cam video of the shooting of Sam DuBose. I am not posting it here. You can google it.

Do as you will, but my recommendation is: If you’re black or brown and you already know in your bones that this is what life in our country is like, you might want to sit this one out. Not because it is extra graphic, but because watching our people be killed violently in real life every day can provoke feelings of fear, anxiety, and agitation that make it hard to go about the business of living. Obviously, I watched it. Maybe we all need to. I don’t know. But take care with your hearts, my people.

Do as you will but my recommendation is: If you’re white, I encourage you to google it. I need you to understand that this is happening. It is too easy for white people to look away or disbelieve the daily realities of racism as they are played out on the bodies of black and brown people. Because it is not happening to them and because it is often happening out of their sight, it is hard to really believe in it.

We must confront this reality and if we are horrified, we must not seek for excuses, but instead seek for justice, seek for the cessation of state sponsored violence against people of color, seek for the end of white supremacy.

As for me…

It is disturbing for me to watch black people (myself, a black person) be killed over and over again. It is horrifying and it is frightening.

Watching the murder of this man, my heart pounds and my breathing gets quicker. My body turns on its fight flight reaction, as if it is me who is in danger.

I am in danger and every part of me knows it.

Who hasn’t left the house without their drivers’ license? Who hasn’t done something the police might pull you over for? Who hasn’t done something you’d rather not have the police know about?

I watch this video and am aware that so many of us have watched thousands of people die violent deaths. We have watched in graphic detail as the hero apprehended the bad guy, as our favorite 007 character does whatever it takes to get out of a jam, as Quentin Tarantino conducts the bloody killing of whole movies full of people. I believe that we are becoming inured to the reality of violence.

It is easy to dissociate from violence we witness on a video screen – or to identify with the one doing the killing. There’s a way that we have been trained to believe it isn’t real. Because so much of what we see isn’t. There’s a way we’ve been trained to identify with the one holding the gun, because that must be the good guy, the hero in the story.

This isn’t television. It isn’t the movies. This is a snuff film, courtesy of your local police department. This is people like me being gunned down in the street in real life. In real death. This isn’t good cop versus evil criminal. This is racism and white supremacy acting on the bodies of the murderer and the victim. They act in different ways, because one of those bodies is white and one of those bodies is black. One of them is alive and one of them is dead.

I know that tomorrow, it could be me.

#tomorrowitcouldbeme

 

For the Love of Black People, Stop Posting Confederate Flags on Articles Appealing to Remove Confederate Flags From Public Places

So, now, my social media feeds are full of confederate flags. This is happening ostensibly because people are trying to get other people to see that the confederate flag is a problem and shouldn’t be flying about where people like me might be terrorized by it and where it might incite other people to racial violence.

I am a Black person. I do not live in a state that was part of the confederacy. Suddenly, in the privacy of my own home, I am surrounded by confederate flags. I imagine it might be something akin to a Jewish person suddenly having a newsfeed full of swastikas (for days).

This is a problem.

For the love of black people, stop posting confederate flags on articles appealing to remove confederate flags from public places.