19. June 2015 10:58
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Price of Freedom, Burden of Terrorism by Ahmad Ward

19. June 2015 10:58 by Administrator | 0 Comments


June 19, 2015 marks 150 years since the ending of slavery in America.  This day is commonly known as “Juneteenth.” Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free.  Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which had become official January 1, 1863. Many slave owners sent their slaves to Texas to “stash” them until after the war.  The goal was to retrieve them after a Confederate victory.  Once the South fell, it was finally feasible for the Union forces to come in and effectively free the slaves.  June 19th would then become a day of celebration for newly freed blacks in the South. The Juneteenth holiday should stand as an opportunity for the country to acknowledge “freedom” for all its citizens.  However, the freed blacks were anything but free.

Until the end of slavery, Black people were always depicted as fiercely loyal, docile, and completely devoted to the slave masters. This was done to counteract the work of abolitionists who chronicled the savagery of the “peculiar institution.”   It was only after emancipation, that Blacks inherited the stereotypes of being extremely violent, untrustworthy, dangerous and prone to the need to rape white women. They regaled the masses with the notion that ex-slaves would take over the country and change the American way of life.  The goal here was to hamstring the already difficult effort of freed Blacks to become independent American citizens.   For the next 100 years, Black people would endure the most concentrated form of domestic terrorism on American citizens in the country’s history.   However, America has done its best to avoid calling it by that name.  Despite the night riding of the Klan, the hundreds and hundreds of “sanctioned” lynchings, the various murders of Civil Rights workers, Black people who tried to register to vote, and “troublemakers,” the word “terrorism” has never been used.

Even with one of the most heinous events of Jim Crow, the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, it was never called terrorism.   Four girls, killed while getting ready to sing in the choir, on Youth Day, in September 1963.  Why is that?   Is it because violence against minorities in America was part of the status quo?  That was “just the way things are?”  Were people too frightened to take the terminology to the next level, because of what could happen to them? In many occasions in the past, the perpetrators of these crimes were set free or not even brought to justice.  During the last part of the twentieth century, with the reopening of Civil Rights cases, we have seen murderers brought to justice.  Notably, three of the individuals who bombed Sixteenth Street, over fifty years ago.  Unfortunately, these extreme acts have not ceased in America. Shootings in schools, movie theaters and yes, places of worship continue to plague this country.  Although the title of “Terrorist” doesn’t seem to fit everyone.

Earlier this week, a twenty-one year old named Dylann Roof walked into a Bible study at a historic Black church and murdered 9 people, including the pastor and an 87 year old woman.  As he reloaded his gun, he spoke of the same stereotypes that have been used to denigrate Black people since the end of slavery. “Taking over the country.”  “Raping ‘our’ women.”  The first words used to describe this shooter, like many of the shooters we’ve seen over the last five years who didn’t fit the narrative:  mentally disturbed, troubled, loner, etc. The events in Charleston have been likened to what happened in Birmingham at Sixteenth Street church.  That horrible day in 1963, helped to change the landscape and the minds of America about what was happening in the Jim Crow South.  Perhaps we can see something come out of the tragedy in South Carolina.

Maybe we will actually have honest conversations about race and “cause and effect.”

Maybe we will see that some people will understand that language has power.

Maybe we will start to call this what it is.   Terrorism. Tried and true, just like Racism in America.

 

Happy Juneteenth.

 

Ahmad Ward is the Head of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI

4. June 2015 14:02
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The Holiday Divide by Josh Cannon

4. June 2015 14:02 by Administrator | 0 Comments

In Montgomery, Alabama last Friday afternoon, a radio traffic reporter announced that many people were getting ready for “another three day weekend.” For the life of me, I could not think of what holiday falls on June 1. But I had forgotten an uncomfortable fact about Alabama.

On the first Monday of June, there is an official public holiday in observance of the birthday of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. This is only one of three Alabama state holidays commemorating the Confederacy, the other two being Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s birthday. What’s more, in Alabama, as in Mississippi and Arkansas, the state holiday for Robert E. Lee’s birthday is observed on the same day as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The state actually lists it as “Robert E. Lee / Martin Luther King Birthday.”

A total of nine southern states observe Confederate Memorial Day, and a few celebrate this holiday on June 3, Jefferson Davis’ birthday. Texas has gone so far as to combine Jefferson Davis’ birthday with Robert E. Lee’s on January 19, to mark what they have called “Confederate Heroes Day.” Every so often, as was the case this year, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, always the third Monday of January, has to share the day with this Confederate holiday.

Some of these holidays are more recent creations than you might expect. Texas established its “Confederate Heroes Day” in 1973 (the same year Illinois became the first state to adopt a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday). South Carolina only made Confederate Memorial Day an official state holiday in 2000, a compromise gesture in order to overcome remaining opposition to the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And only since the 1990s have seven southern states annually designated the month of April as Confederate History Month.

In two weeks, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, the oldest known commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. Given that, it is particularly worth considering the significance of all of these Confederate remembrances, not to mention the myriad physical Confederate memorials and monuments littering the U.S. landscape.

Amid state celebrations of the Confederacy today, you would probably be hard-pressed to find public approval of or fondness for slavery. In fact, you might not hear any mention of slavery at all. But, dig down a bit, and instead, you will still find the revisionist denial that the Confederate cause had anything to do with slavery. Dig a little deeper still, and you might find suggestions that slavery in the South was really not so bad.

It is the persistence of these self-serving revisions and lies that allows a misplaced honor and veneration for the Confederacy to continue to this day. The whitewashing of the centrality of slavery to the cause, and our national failure to tell and show the truth of that slavery, cloud otherwise clear contradictions in our national memory.

The Confederacy cannot be truly recognized apart from either American slavery or the racial subordination which defined that slavery. Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, stated in 1861 that the “cornerstone” of the new Confederate government “rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”

Also in 1861, in its declaration of causes of secession, the state of Texas proudly defended what they called the South’s “beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery” and held that “the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color” was a “debasing doctrine [...] at war with nature.”

Four years later, on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas with the news that the Civil War was over and all slaves were now free. Hence, Juneteenth. In 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Since then, more than 40 other states, including Alabama, have chosen to recognize the day.

But something is amiss when Texas celebrates both the end of slavery and their “Confederate heroes.” Or when Montgomery proudly holds itself up as both the “Cradle of the Confederacy” and the “Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.” It is important that we tell ourselves the truth about the Confederacy’s primary concern for protecting and expanding slavery, and especially racial hierarchy, not just so we can unequivocally celebrate the end of slavery in 1865.

In addition, we need to tell that truth in order to have proper context for the decades of terror, violence, and racial subjugation that followed Reconstruction, for the violent resistance to the Civil Rights Movement nearly a century later, and for the ways this history still impacts our society today, particularly in policing and the criminal justice system.

In short, if we are not fully honest about our past, and clear about what we celebrate and why, and what we should not celebrate and why, how can we hope to be honest and clear about the continuing, related struggles of the present?

 Josh Cannon is Deputy Program Manager with the Equal Justice Initiative 

7. May 2015 15:36
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Can Freedom of Speech Go Too Far? by Ahmad Ward

7. May 2015 15:36 by Administrator | 0 Comments




On May 3, 2015, in Garland Texas, a “Draw Muhammad” contest was taking place, sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI).  The founder of AFDI, Pamela Geller is also president of the Stop Islamization of America and has been known for promoting anti-Islamic ideas.  Contest participants were asked to draw images of the Prophet Muhammad (which is considered blasphemous by many in the Muslim community) for an opportunity to win $10,000.   As the event was ending, two men armed with assault rifles opened fire on the venue, wounding a security guard.  The two men were shot and killed by a traffic officer working security for the event.  There was a S.W.A.T. on hand as well because of the heightened risk.    This event mirrored the attack on the satirical French magazine, Charlie Hedbo, where 12 people were killed by gunman, upset by the magazine’s publishing of cartoons depicting Muhammad.  After the Garland attack, Geller said: "I will not abridge my freedoms so as not to offend savages. This is Freedom of Speech and these cartoons are political critique."

No one’s life should be threatened because of the things they say or the beliefs they hold, no matter how distasteful.  However, when does your right to Freedom of Speech meet a barrier?    It is well-known that depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are frowned upon and have historically been followed by credible threats.  Charlie Hebdo has shown that the practice of “insulting” Muhammad cannot be taken lightly.  So why do it?  Many people have stated that they believe Geller created the event to purposely “thumb her nose” at Islam and some even believe that she was hoping to provoke a response to show the “danger” inherent in the religion.   There are bad people in each and every religion and things like violence and intolerance are not tools of any one faith.   We do a disservice to the millions of people who practice Islam when we cast all of them as radical extremists bent on destroying Western civilization and Christianity.   When we call all Muslims “radicals” and violent, we are disrespecting the countless members of our community that are our doctors, teachers, community leaders, public servants and military.   President Obama recently discussed the “complicated” histories of other organized religions, including Christianity, in regards to violence.   We must take a realistic look at history and put these events in the proper perspective.   Violence must be condemned and the perpetrators must be punished, but we must be careful not to condemn and punish the religion associated with those events.

Geller said Sunday's attack showed how necessary the event was, and that she plans to hold similar events in the future.  While we have to protect free speech, as civilized people, we have to use common sense and discernment to determine whether we are causing harm.   It really boils down to one of my favorite statements:  Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that you should do it.


Ahmad is Head of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI

13. April 2015 13:25
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Avoidable by Josh Cannon

13. April 2015 13:25 by Administrator | 0 Comments

Another day, another tragically familiar police shooting dominates the news. The difference this time is the news only broke at the surfacing of a bystander’s cell phone video, video which clearly shows, contrary to the official account and initial news reports, North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager fatally shooting a fleeing, unarmed Walter Scott in the back.

Another thing that makes this case different than others, including some where video was also available (Tamir Rice; Eric Garner; et al.), it has sparked quick action and outrage across partisan lines. The North Charleston Police Department has promptly fired Officer Slager, and authorities have charged him with murder. Politicians, left and right, have expressed shock and disgust after seeing the video.

This could be a positive development toward holding law enforcement accountable for unnecessary force. Or it could just be temporary damage control of what will still only be officially treated as an isolated incident. But what should be just as troubling to all of us as the video footage is this: without that video, we would likely not even be talking about Walter Scott. Slager’s story would not be intensely scrutinized or doubted, and the case would just be chalked up as yet another presumably unavoidable incident with a well-worn script: an unfortunate but justified case of an officer exercising self-preservation.

The key element of video evidence discrediting the official story from law enforcement raises questions beyond this case, of course. Namely, how many other similar, un-filmed cases have there been that will never be exposed to the same clarity, scrutiny, or outrage? The State newspaper reports that South Carolina police alone have been involved in over 200 shooting incidents over the last 5 years. Only 3 officers involved in these incidents have faced any charges related to improper use of force, and 0 have been convicted, despite several controversial cases.

In one such case, police pursued, shot, and killed a 25 year old black male, Aaron Jacobs, claiming he fit the description of a wanted carjacker, and that he had a gun. Autopsy results reportedly showed Jacobs was shot multiple times in the back of the head and in the back. Not only were none of the officers charged, but authorities resisted release of the autopsy and won a favorable ruling from the South Carolina Supreme Court that autopsies are not a matter of public record.

The key takeaway here is this: we need to come to a place in our society where we don’t need a video or perfect evidence to question such common and often suspect use of force. Currently, our laws grant incredibly wide latitude for what is considered “justified” lethal force by law enforcement. But as Professor Seth Stoughton writes, we “ […] shouldn’t ask if a shooting is justified, but if it’s avoidable.” 

The issue is not merely a clear case of a police officer shooting a man in the back as he runs away. The larger issue is, all too often, similar incidents which could end non-lethally end in death, precisely because we have allowed for practically any conceivable interpretation of a threat to an officer’s safety to justify killing. Unless we begin to prioritize the preservation of life on both sides of these scenarios - unless we begin to demand that non-lethal options be prioritized in every case - and lethal options, when used, be sufficiently shown to be clearly unavoidable, what happened to Walter Scott will happen again and again to others in a similar position.

We can and must do better, but we can’t expect to do much better if we have to wait for such rare video clarity to have any hope of receiving justice.



Josh Cannon holds a history degree from UAB.  He will be starting with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) April 15, 2015 as a new Justice Fellow.  He also blogs at http://joshuacannon.wordpress.com.

 

2. March 2015 13:10
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In Defense of Cliff Huxtable by Ahmad Ward

2. March 2015 13:10 by Administrator | 0 Comments

No, this will not be a defense of Bill Cosby, nor will I be trying to litigate his current situation in this post.  However, it is because of that situation, that The Cosby Show is currently not being shown on television.  I won’t defend Dr. Cosby, but I’m here to speak up for Heathcliff Huxtable.  The Cosby Show closed its curtain twenty years ago and its groundbreaking spin-off, A Different World, left shortly after.  Those shows became the first version of “Must See TV.”   Households all over the country tuned in every Thursday night to see the Huxtables live normal lives with normal family situations.   There wasn’t the constant hardship and despair found in shows like Good Times in the 1970’s. This was a family that I actually saw around me growing up in Eastern North Carolina.  We weren’t upper Middle Class like the Huxtables, but I saw plenty of Black doctors and lawyers in my childhood.   Just not on television. 


Black America’s relationship with film and television has been a frustrating one.  More often than not our characters were seen as buffoonish, uneducated or dripping with tired stereotypes and tropes that belied a true depiction of the richness of our experience.  With few exceptions, we didn’t see positive images of ourselves on the screen….if we saw images of us at all.  Here comes Cliff and Claire Huxtable.  Critics called the idea of a Black doctor married to a Black lawyer “over the top” and “heavy-handed.”  We saw people we could aspire to be.  We saw well-adjusted kids in a safe and nurturing environment.   That show would be the topic of lunch table and water cooler discussions every Friday morning.  The episode with the family serenading Cliff’s parents with a Ray Charles classic is a watershed moment in television history that everyone remembers fondly.  Plus my kids love it.


This brings me to my cause for Dr. Huxtable.  Who do my children see when they watch television?  The reason why they are familiar with The Cosby Show and A Different World is because my wife and I felt so strongly about what those shows taught us.  The Cosby Show pushed little Black children to think about becoming doctors and lawyers.  A Different World gave insight to the Black College experience and convinced more than a few teenagers to enroll in higher education.  Now before you say, “It’s the parents’ responsibility to instill those ideas in their children,” let me remind you that every situation is different and studies have shown the impact that positive images have on young children.  The last twenty years have seen some decent shows depicting Black families come and go.  However, our recent images have been problematic examples of the worst aspects of our perceived culture. The push for higher ratings compels people to act in ways that only serve to reinforce stereotypes, that Black people have fought to destroy for centuries. 


Obviously, the top rated shows on the tube now have major black characters.  Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and Empire are blockbuster hits.  However, I can’t let my nine and six year olds watch any of those shows because of the subject matter.  Blackish (despite the controversy around the name) is a welcomed addition and does provide the representation that is currently lacking, but it is only one show, when it seemed not too long ago, there were several.   I can only hope that the success of those shows will lead to a renaissance of positive images for not only Black people, but all other groups that are sorely missing from the landscape.   America is much more diverse than broadcast television and award shows (*cough* The Oscars *cough*) would have us believe.


It saddens me that my daughters don’t have the luxury of seeing characters like Theo, Rudy and Vanessa grow up with them. They can’t root for Denise to succeed in school and see how people struggle to find their way to adulthood.  I would love for a character to come along like Whitley Gilbert for my kids to see mature from a spoiled brat to a capable strong woman.  I want my girls to see how Claire Huxtable juggled the practice of law and rearing children with style and grace.  I have NO problem admitting that I still have a crush on Claire. Don’t judge me. Fortunately, I have my very own “Claire,” complete with style and class, (also a law degree) as my better half.


Of course we have to create those examples for our children, but man, it sure made us feel good to watch those shows and look at those characters like family members.  That is missing right now and it stinks.   I know why The Cosby Show is not on television right now.  However, until the next Huxtable clan comes along, my kids need Cliff and Claire around.  Maybe I do too.
 
By Ahmad Ward, BCRI Head of Education and Exhibitions

28. January 2015 07:07
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Trying to Grasp a Force of Nature: The Selective Buying Campaign of 1962 by Donna Dukes

28. January 2015 07:07 by Administrator | 0 Comments

 

How do you explain the world’s continued fascination with the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement? How do you begin to understand a time in history that is as motivating as it is complex? Perhaps by looking at one of the key events that, inarguably, laid the foundation for the force of nature known as “The Movement”.

In a day and age where the social consciousness of young people is most often measured by “Likes”, “Hits” and “Views”, the incredible bravery shown by a group of students in 1961 & 1962 is not only noteworthy, but awe inspiring. As the daughter of one of the students, I am honored to pay homage to the Selective Buying Campaign of 1962, which, in my opinion, showed the incredible feats that can be accomplished when one stops to think, instead of giving in to the primal instinct to react first and think later.

In the Spring of 1962, a group of students from Miles College led by my father, Frank Dukes, who was their 31 year old Student Government Association President, created and launched a Selective Buying Campaign. The campaign was a boycott of Birmingham’s downtown merchants. Question: Why was a boycott necessary? Answer: At the time the campaign began, Blacks in Birmingham were spending $4,000,000.00 a week in downtown stores. Yet, they could not eat in the cafeterias, or try on the clothing or shoes that they purchased. Supporting the students were Miles College President Dr. Lucius H. Pitts, selected faculty, local housewives, and members of Birmingham’s White community. These factions brought about significant desegregation before Dr. King's arrival to the city in 1963. In fact, it is widely held that the success of the Selective Buying Campaign of 1962 was the impetus for the triumph of Dr. M. L. King, Jr.’s climactic demonstrations of 1963.

When asked why the Selective Buying Campaign of 1962 led by my father succeeded, and the seven previous attempts led by the indomitable, courageous Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth failed, my answer is simple—the Selective Buying Campaign of 1962 succeeded, because it contained key components missing in other boycotts, i.e., the rejection of emotionalism, thinking outside of the box and embracing inclusiveness. Women were welcomed and allowed to play leadership roles, the White populace of Birmingham was allowed to participate, and the irrepressible optimism found in such great abundance in the minds of college students was nurtured and allowed to run free. How else could one explain the fact that a campaign created and executed by students from a small, relatively unknown historically black college on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama brought about the desegregation of two major department stores before the coming of King in 1963?

If you want to learn more about the Selective Buying Campaign, I recommend that you watch the documentary ““STAND! Untold Stories from the Civil Rights Movement.”  The film chronicles the key events which led to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), selecting Birmingham, Alabama as the site for the now famous 'Project C' (Project Confrontation) in 1963.  The film brings to light often overlooked and unknown facts about the system of segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, “STAND!” features the brave men and women who risked all to bring about its demise. “STAND!” dismisses many myths that the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement was all Black, all male, and led by ministers who rallied in 1963 and liberated a city.

How do you grasp a force of nature? With awe…with awe.

For more information on the film, please visit its website:standthedocumentary.com

 

Donna Dukes  is an educator and founder of Maranathan Academy

8. December 2014 12:11
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Demanding the Perfect Victim by Josh Cannon

8. December 2014 12:11 by Administrator | 0 Comments

 

 

From leaving Michael Brown’s body in the street for four hours on the afternoon of August 9th, to the November 24th late-evening announcement that the grand jury had not indicted Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death, authorities in Ferguson / St. Louis seemed to be writing the handbook on how not to ease tensions and cool the anger of a grieving community.

Since St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s badly timed, riot-inducing announcement, peaceful protests all around the country have grown, while many people have become more deeply entrenched in their preexisting biases regarding the case.

On one side, those who never trusted the authorities, and particularly McCulloch, to fairly handle the case, believe the grand jury was set up to fail, pointing to the unusual approach prosecutors took. Those on the other side who so readily clung to the early narrative of Brown as a doped-up “thug,” looking for a fight, have no trouble believing Wilson’s extraordinary testimony (which includes description of Brown as a demon-like superhuman, able to run through bullets).

As ever, there is a wide racial divide over what to make of Ferguson and over views of policing generally. Moreover, the murkiness of this case has led some, who may or may not be sympathetic to the broader issues it raises, to question building a movement around Michael Brown.

One must wonder, though, if pointing to a clearer case with a more clearly blameless victim would break through our racial and political polarization, or, rather, if that idea is often just another well-worn, victim-blaming dodge -- a distraction from seeing in full a broader pattern of excessive force and racial disparities.

And there is clearly a pattern. Darren Wilson’s wild, superhuman description of Michael Brown was not unique, but consistent with long-standing racial stereotypes. In fact, one recent study found that whites tend to have a "superhumanization bias" toward black people, often associating them with superhuman and magical abilities. Other studiesfind that whites overestimate the amount of crime committed by blacks and Latinos. And still another study found that people regularly view black children as “less innocent and less young.”

We have seen too many recent cases where one or more of these biases have tragically worked against black males in encounters with police. Take the recent case of TamirRice. Because of surveillance video, we now know that, instantly upon exiting his police vehicle, a Cleveland police officer shot and killed Rice - a 12 year old black boy - because the boy had an (admittedly realistic) air pellet gun. What’s more, the police officer assumed that Rice was 20 years old.

You would think if any case could produce a clear, united wake up call, the shooting death of a young boy, who was simply playing like young boys do, would do it. Yet, in some corners, all too familiar rationalizations and deflections abound, as does the tendency to more intensely question the young boy’s judgment and background than that of the adult police officer. Even Northeast Ohio Media Group thought it appropriate to quickly report on the violent pasts” of Rice’s parents, in order to, as the VP of content, Chris Quinn, writes,“shed further light on why this 12 year old was waving a weapon around a public park.”

Or consider the case of Eric Garner. Wednesday, in a similar fashion to Ferguson, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the officer who placed Eric Garner in a chokehold (a practice banned by the NYPD), resulting in Garner’s death, later ruled a homicide. Police had approached Garner, a 43 year old black man, for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Garner was unarmed, and in no way a threat to the officers who choked and smothered him while placing him under arrest. Yet, somehow the grand jury found no reason to indict, and the city’s police union places the blame squarely on Garner for resisting arrest.

And therein lies the problem with demands for a “better” victim. Certain victims, it seems, can never be perfect enough to avoid the easily modified template for judging the dead in order to shift any blame from the living and the powerful. “Why would you pick a fight with a cop?” is easily interchanged with, “Why would you play with a toy gun?”, “Why would you resist?” or, “why would you wear a hoodie?”, as if any of those things deserve death.

These cases show precisely what is at the heart of the protests branching out from Ferguson. The rallying cry “Black Lives Matter,” born in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s killing, anticipates and responds to the predictable demands that such black victims be perfect. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about deserving the equal chance to go on living just as any other imperfect human being.

 

 

 Josh Cannon holds a history degree from UAB and is hoping to pursue a master's degree in Community / Urban Planning. He also blogs at http://joshuacannon.wordpress.com.

 

21. November 2014 11:38
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Selma to Ferguson by Josh Cannon

21. November 2014 11:38 by Administrator | 0 Comments

 

 

In the trailer for the forthcoming movie Selma, we see Governor George Wallace, as played by actor Tim Roth, proclaim, “We will not tolerate agitators attempting to orchestrate a disturbance in this state.” Not a direct quote perhaps, but certainly in keeping with the actual language of Wallace and others who put up resistance to the Civil Rights Movement, and not that dissimilar to language surrounding current struggles.

Jenée Desmond-Harris, a reporter with Vox.com, watched the Selma trailer, and thought this Wallace line bore an eerie resemblance to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s news conference last week; in anticipation of the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Governor Nixon addressed the press, assuring a robust police presence and zero tolerance of violence.

To be sure, Gov. Nixon is not likely to be confused for Gov. Wallace. For one, he sounds softer and somewhat more sympathetic to protestors than Wallace often did, as when, just before the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Wallace argued against the state providing aid and protection for the “so-called demonstrators,” whom he condemned as “mobs employing the street warfare tactics of the Communists.”

Further, I think we can agree that violence is not acceptable, and law enforcement has a duty to protect. Ironically, as St. Louis Alderman Antonio French illustrated on Twitter, that is a point the majority of peaceful protesters have been trying to make, only aimed in the opposite direction Gov. Nixon intended it.

And for Desmond-Harris, therein lies the problem with the tone of Nixon’s news conference. The governor seemed to place the blame for and burden of violence solely at the feet of demonstrators, while failing to acknowledge the dramatic missteps of the militarized police response which escalated tensions and fueled widespread outrage. This came off as a one-sided deference to law enforcement and a tone-deaf threat of more of the aggressive tactics which so roiled the community and created an international stir in August.

But it was not just Gov. Nixon calling to mind the language and tensions of the 1960s. The first member of the press to pose a question to Nixon wanted to know what “intelligence” law enforcement had regarding outside “infiltrators” and “communists” who might come in to stir up trouble. Members of the KKK reportedly distributed fliers throughout St. Louis County threatening lethal force against “terrorists masquerading as ‘peaceful protestors’ (sic)!”

Beyond Ferguson itself, we don’t have to look too hard to find many in the media using a Wallace-esque script about demonstrators. Many have accused protesters of having a “lynch mob mentality” and demanding “mob justice” --  George Wallace similarly claimed the marchers in Selma sought the “speedy expediencies of mob rule” rather than waiting for the courts to decide the issue.

The suggestion that people should sit back and wait, and wait, and wait, despite long-growing disaffection and feeling that the system fails to represent them, is perhaps as commonplace now as it was in the Jim Crow era. It is worth recalling that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail was a response to just such a complaint from members of the local clergy over nonviolent demonstrations in the streets of Birmingham, demonstrations the clergy members called “unwise and untimely.” King retorted, “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ … This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ ”

Whether “Wait” now means “Never” for the issues brought to the forefront in Ferguson remains to be seen. But that we have very similar perceptions of injustice and are having eerily similar conversations about these matters 50 years after Birmingham and Selma reminds us that the struggle does indeed continue.

 

Josh Cannon holds a history degree from UAB and is hoping to pursue a master's degree in Community / Urban Planning. He also blogs at http://joshuacannon.wordpress.com.

 

 

17. October 2014 13:08
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What Do You Mean My Halloween Costume is Offensive? by Ahmad Ward

17. October 2014 13:08 by Administrator | 0 Comments

 

 

Halloween is a time of the year where the young and the young-at-heart express themselves through the use of costumes.  There will be countless parties leading up to October 31st where folks will show off their duds with the hope of impressing others with their creativity.   In the mix of this will most assuredly be costumes that will be borderline (or completely) tasteless, tacky and offensive.  

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

              Oh here it comes.  This guy is going to go on a rant about blackface and I’m tired of hearing about this.

 It’s all in fun, Ahmad. Lighten up! 

 

Hear me out first. Growing up as a kid, no one flinched at the sight of little children wearing headdresses, carrying bows and arrows and fake tomahawks.  There were also folks sporting huge sombreros and oversized mustaches while making their best attempt at a “Speedy Gonzalez” impression.  As the country started to acknowledge the importance of respecting other cultures, some folks decided these images are potentially problematic.  However, you can still purchase full scale costumes that “mock” other cultures.  Do you know why people frown on “blackface?”  Black people decided to remind the general public about the sordid past of the practice.  “Documentaries such as Ethnic Notions described in great detail the inherent racism attached to blackface and other damaging tropes used in the media to disparage Black people.   Now here is where the rubber meets the road.  Do you know why you do not hear the same furor about headdresses, Day of the Dead costumes and Eastern/Asian cultural appropriation?    Those voices (and they are out there) are not widely respected or taken seriously the way they should be in America.

Ahmad, you’re being too sensitive. Nobody cares about this

It is a lot harder to gloss over America’s history with its citizens from African descent.  The very fabric of the country is girded with the underlying issue of race and oppression.  However, we still feel it is okay to appropriate Native American culture.  You could make a case about how the blood of indigenous people flows through all our veins therefore you can wear the multi-feathered headdress or dress like a “squaw.”  You could go the “it’s a free country and I can dress how I want to” route.  If that’s how you feel…fine. But please look at this excerpt from a piece entitled “An open letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses from the site Apihtawikosisan.com:

For the most part, headdresses are restricted items.  In particular, the headdress worn by most non-natives imitate those worn by various Plains nations.  These headdresses are further restricted within the cultures to men who have done certain things to earn them.  It is very rare for women in Plains cultures to wear these headdresses, and their ability to do so is again quite restricted.

So unless you are a native male from a Plains nation who has earned a headdress, or you have been given permission to wear one (sort of like being presented with an honorary degree), then you will have a very difficult time making a case for how wearing one is anything other than disrespectful, now that you know these things. If you choose to be disrespectful, please do not be surprised when people are offended… regardless of why you think you are entitled to do this.

Even if you have ‘native friends’ or are part native yourself, individual choices to “not be offended” do not trump our collective rights as peoples to define our symbols.

You can read the rest of the post at: http://apihtawikosisan.com/hall-of-shame/an-open-letter-to-non-natives-in-headdresses/

If you take this as a sweeping indictment of people who let their kids dress up like other cultures or who want to show their cultural appreciation, it’s not.   There are plenty of items that are culturally acceptable to wear.  It would behoove us to do the research to see what things are revered in a certain cultures, so that we do the right thing and steer clear of them.  What you will find if you do the research is there is serious dialogue taking place on whether non-Indians can wear Bindis or Saris without being offensive and which Native American items are okay and which are not.  This could actually be a good thing for you and your children because it will expand your world view….and you might just learn something.

Now, if you are pulling a “Katy Perry” and donning “yellowface” while mixing various Asian cultures...THAT, could be seen as problematic.  It comes across like you are fetishizing the culture instead of appreciating it.  Actually any painting of faces to “capture” a culture or dressing up like an over-the-top stereotype of a culture puts you in offensive territory. 

Here’s the thing to remember: If you don't want to wear your costume in a room full of the people you are “appreciating," you probably should get another costume.

Enjoy your candy.

 

 

Ahmad is the Head of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI

 

 

 

21. August 2014 09:21
by Tammi Sharpe
2 Comments

Another Crossroads?

21. August 2014 09:21 by Tammi Sharpe | 2 Comments

 

My road trips in search of historic sites related to the American Civil War and Civil Rights Movement have taken me in a number of directions.  One of the most confounding was a visit to a “Faithful Slave” Monument built in 1895; its mere existence stunned me to the point that I had to sit down and call home to talk it through.  I just could not imagine how even in 1895, someone could have not seen such a monument as anything but utterly demeaning.  So, what does the fact that this monument still stands in pristine condition say about where we are today in “race relations” in the United States? 

As the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri scream out, we are not in a post-racial America.  We can look at all the remaining gaps that allow for discrimination within the cycle of our justice system from the police to the prisons despite passage of key civil rights legislation.  These gaps merit attention, but I’m not sure that this will lead us to a colorblind justice system without a corresponding close examination of our American psyche. 

In 1895 America was at a crossroads.  Debates over Jim Crow were in their early phases. Freedmen in the 30 years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been regulated to subordinates in American society throughout the country.  Lawful segregation had not yet become the norm, and African-Americans (except Mississippi) exercised their right to vote.  However, within a decade Jim Crow was law in the South, and de-facto segregation took hold in the rest of the country.  Rather than moving in a constructive direction towards freedom for former slaves, and equality and liberty for all Americans, many of our ancestors, including mine, chose to pursue a new form of racial oppression. 

This separation of the races soon became accepted as natural.  As I’m learning from oral history interviewees with those who once opposed integration, segregation structures and practices were a part of social conditioning.  For my first interviewee, Mr. Andrews, in the Oral History Project Reconciling with the Past:  The Legacy of Segregation, the structures of segregation were foremost in his memory.  Drawing on a song in the South Pacific musical, he stated: “You’ve got to be Carefully Taught.” While Mr. Andrews’ experience is his own, he describes a rather typical Southern society that sent a very clear message to its children: “Blacks and whites, we were not supposed to socially mingle.”  He elaborated: “They went to their own restaurants.  We went to ours.  You weren’t suppose to drink from the same water fountain as a black person.  I remember going to the train station in Tuskegee to take the train to Washington.  We had a black waiting room, [or as known then a] ‘colored’ waiting room, and a white waiting room.  You couldn’t sit together in a train station.  I remember going to the doctor’s office.  The blacks waited to see the doctor in a different room than where I sat.”

The memories of Mrs. Evelyn Ray Dauphin, who sat for an interview last month, revealed how insidiously the system secured its existence.  Like Mr. Andrews, as a child she saw the institution of segregation as a matter of fact:   “Other than being glad that I was white instead of black, I don’t have too many memories of racial instance because it wasn’t something that we thought about.  It was just, that was the way things were.”  She makes this last point clear in her remembrance of a childhood playmate, Katy-Lou.  Katy-Lou was the daughter of the black sharecropper family who worked on the Ray farm.

“The little girl, Katy-Lou would come and play.  It was just she and I playing while our mothers worked.  We played in a little shed….  We enjoyed each other’s company, I guess.  I don’t really know if she enjoyed it or not.  But I did.  She was my only playmate… There was no conflict between us…because I was always in charge.  We never argued like our other friends later because, [pause] it wasn’t like let’s play together: you do something like you want to do, and I’ll do something like I want to do.  I got to do what I wanted to do and she just did it.”  

Such memories suggest that segregation practices and white supremacy were like air:  even young children—too young to go to school yet—adapted white supremacy into their play, just as we instinctively know to breathe.    

In listening to these interviewees, I’ve thought back on a warning offered by Lillian Smith in the 1940s.  She described segregation as “spiritual lynching,” and she focused on the harmful effects of segregation on both whites and blacks.  In the interviews, I am finding specific examples of the harm Smith enumerated for whites:  “No white child, under the segregation pattern, can be free of arrogance and hardness of heart, and blindness to human need."* 

Mrs. Dauphin is an example of how profound this “hardness of heart” can be.  Listening to her memories, I felt as if she was still in disbelief, and frustrated with herself for how long it took her to believe in race equality.  As she exclaimed: “Finally, it took that long for me to get to that point.  This was [in the] ‘80s.”  In trying to understand why it took so long, I’ve taken note that she never recounted a traumatic event with a black person.  In fact, her contact with African-Americans was extremely limited.  The most contact she described was as a child with her playmate Katy-Lou, who epitomizes a benign contact.  As she noted early in the interview, “It was just that was the way things were.”  Near the end of the interview she commented, “I don’t believe that I ever hated.”  Yet, it took her decades to overcome the messages of white supremacy that she absorbed in her childhood.    

Mrs. Dauphin intentionally faced her conditioning and notions of white supremacy.  But has a similar effort occurred at a community, state or national level for the American psyche?  Racism was cultivated in the 1600’s to justify the enslavement of fellow humans.  Political support for slavery entailed social conditioning, which taught that the black “race” was innately inferior and it was in their best interest to be enslaved.  This fed notions of the benevolence of slavery. The inherent contradictions of the founding of the United States − freedom, liberty and equality for all men − with slavery and segregation signal how carefully taught Americans have been for centuries.   With all the racial incidents that have preceded Ferguson, can we finally see ourselves at a crossroads?   Are we courageous enough to face a longstanding history of racial oppression by carefully examining remaining remnants of racial social conditioning in American society, such as pristine “Faithful Slave” Monuments?      

 

 

*    Gladney, M. R. How Am I to be Heard?  Letters of Lillian Smith.  Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1993.