Monday Notes: Since George Floyd’s Death…

No Justice. No Peace.After George Floyd’s death, the first thing I did was search for a way to be more active in my city. My journey began with contacting the editor of one of the Black newspapers. I was taken aback by three things: 1) every other one of her words was a cuss word; 2) she denigrated Black citizens by calling them “lazy”; and 3) she was dismissive of White people. Even though my decision was pretty clear, I slept on the meeting I was supposed to have with her and decided it wasn’t the best place to use my skill set and talents. I also reached out to a civil rights activist that I’d once interviewed to ask how I could be of help, but he never returned my call.

I’m sharing these situations because I want you to know that it wasn’t easy just because I was Black and motivated. Even in the midst of everything, it was challenging for me to find a solution that was a good fit. That’s when I took my own advice and joined Color of Change. What has been reinforced in each meeting is the importance of unity and direction. Thus far, we’ve been asked to use an app to be sure that people are registered to vote (at the least). I’ve also learned about how specific organizations are connected to why Black people do not receive justice when murdered by the police. I’ll discuss that later.

1df45dfe-5408-45a9-90c0-22faebf2fa5cNext, I decided to lean into hard conversations centered on race. Part of this includes speaking up when I feel someone has made a statement that seems to fit in the covert or overt racist category. For example, when an IG acquaintance posted about how her church fed police as a way to demonstrate “unity” during global protest focused on how police were killing Black men, I asked her a simple question: Has your church supported the BLM movement? Her answer was a disappointing no that she wholeheartedly stands by, but I feel better having broached the subject, as opposed to ignoring it altogether. And I don’t have to assume where she is on the subject. It’s quite clear.

A third thing I’ve done is begun attending our homeowners’ association meetings. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. How can I say I care about a community (e.g., our city), but not be active and care about a microcosm of that community (e.g., our neighborhood)? Guess what happened? During the meeting, I witnessed firsthand what some White women think about breaking laws or rules, and how they end up being the proverbial “Karens” we’ve seen in videos. For example, a board member’s response to college kids caught swimming in the pool at one in the morning was to call the police. Her response to people who are able to walk onto our property because there’s no gate at one entrance was to call the police. I was surprised. One of these activities is illegal, and one is not, and the consequences of calling the police depend on who the police or perpetrators are. I plan to address it from a place of concern in a letter to the Board.

pollsThe last thing I’ve done is educate myself. While some White people have been reading up on racism, etc., I thought I’d learn a little bit about two topics: voter suppression and the Fraternal Order of Police. I’ve written about voter suppression here. But FOP was new to me. Basically, elected officials sometimes take donations from the FOP. When they do that, then it makes it easier for policemen to cash in on favors, and more importantly for union leaders in different cities to speak unfavorably of the victims (unarmed Black people), as well as to deny that the killings are racially motivated. The FOP literally shapes a specific narrative. You can read more here. These two concepts have been enlightening to me, and at the least I’ve been able to share what I’ve learned with my social media community.

I think that’s about it.

What have you done since George Floyd’s death? This is more of an accountability situation than it is bragging. Plus, we can help one another do more than we’ve been doing.

If you haven’t done anything, then that’s fine too. I mean it took me eight years and several more deaths to be more involved. But one thing I realize is the only way we can do better is to actually do better.

Monday Notes: The Black People in Front of You 👽

kg_FSUI began a tenure-track position at a Research I university August 2013, a month after Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted. Our academic year began in one of the university’s ballrooms with announcements of new faculty, food, and light banter. I was the only black face at our round table. I’d grown used to being the only, but this felt different. I remember chit-chatting about inconsequential topics so minor that I cannot recall the slightest detail.

I remember wondering if I should ask any of these white faces what they thought about Martin’s death or his killer’s acquittal. After all, we were scholars. I remember wondering if this incident mattered to them at all, not in a Black Lives Matter way, but in a we live in the state of Florida and this just happened in Florida type of way.

Instead, I remained silent, returned to my office, and prepared my syllabi for the semester.

***

That August, I taught a class that was at an integral phase for my students who were studying to be teachers. The class was right before their internship semester. Strict guidelines had been passed down from the previous professor. Students could only miss two classes. The consequence? They’d fail and have to wait an entire year to re-take the course. Rigidity was important because they’d be student teaching the following semester and had to learn the importance of punctuality and attendance. They were two semesters away from being professionals after all.

Long story very short, there was a student who missed more than two classes, and because I wanted to follow the rules I was given, I failed her. The day she realized I wouldn’t budge on my decision, she stood in the hallway demanding to be seen even though my office hours had ended. She stood, with her face inches away from mine and yelled. She’d made such a commotion that the office secretary came out and asked if I was okay.

“Yes,” I replied, my voice no louder than a whisper.

The girl left. I gathered my belongings and left to teach class. I wondered if any white, tenure-track professors had ever been yelled at, in the middle of the hallway, in front of their offices at this Research I university.

I never asked. Instead, I taught, wrote my grant, and prepared to conduct my study, in addition to having to participate in several conversations that reached the dean’s office about why I should change my mind about this student’s grade.

***

Other bothersome events occurred at this university, like the girl who placed an online order and had a Jimmy John’s sandwich delivered to class…while I was teaching.

img_4048There was the time the same girl screenshot an email she’d sent to me to prove she’d completed an assignment. I noticed the emoji she associated with my name – an alien. According to her, she’d used that alien emoji for “all her professors.”

There was the time I was supposed to have a mentor. I asked for a black woman, someone with whom I could identify and navigate this particular university’s world. My assigned mentor was black and female, but she was not tenured. At the time, they didn’t have any black, female tenured professors in our college. She confessed that she had little to offer me by way of advice; she was just trying to keep her own head above water.

There was the time my white colleague asked me to speak to a black student about her use of Black English. I was tasked with placing her on probation if she didn’t learn to use “standard” English. How is she going to be an English teacher? my colleague asked.

There was the story of my incompetent, white, male counterpart, who initially made $12k more than I did, but who needed my help understanding how to create and teach his classes.

And, there’s the story of how I got this specific job in the first place. Spoiler alert: it was tied to Affirmative Action.

***

Since we’re all having moments of introspection and authentic conversations centered on race, I figured I’d share this partial list of how systemic racism manifested for me in three short years at a place I’d least expected it, the highest rated university in our educational system.

This post may be my last about race for a while, so I want to be clear.

Some black people will not encounter police brutality, but we will encounter white people in other spaces that weren’t initially created for us.

Subsequently, it’s important for two things to happen: 1) black people should speak up and be explicit about what we need, and 2) white people should understand systemic racism and determine how to engage in anti-racist ways.

For the latter, I think a great place to begin is with paying attention to the black people in front of you.

Monday Notes: Social Media Activism &…

Trayvon Martin was shot on February 26, 2012. Over a year later, Jamie Foxx appeared at the BET Awards in a red t-shirt with the slain teenager’s hooded face. I thought his silent statement was brilliant, so I ordered one and wore it around Jacksonville, hoping to raise awareness and concern about the case. Two weeks later, his murderer was found not guilty of any charges. I tucked my folded t-shirt away and deemed wearing it ineffectual.

Then, Mike Brown was killed by a police officer and left to rot in the street on August 9, 2014. #BlackLivesMatter was active and I’d begun using it, in addition to #MichaelBrown. But the grand jury decided not to indict the officer.

A little over a year passed and Tamir Rice was gunned down by a police officer in a Cleveland park. I created a social media posts and included #BlackLivesMatter and #TamirRice. Later, I found out that Laquan McDonald was killed by a Chicago police officer around the same time, but the video wasn’t released. More posts. More hashtags.

The murders and associated hashtags rolled out quicker than I could grieve: #SayHerName, #JusticeForSandraBland, #BaltimoreUprising, #FreddieGray, #JamarClark, #PhilandoCastile occurred faster than I could post. And I began to wonder if hashtagging was enough. I mean, unarmed black people continued to be murdered whether I tweeted my anger or not.

So, I stopped.

Last month, a video of two white Georgia men seemingly hunting down a black, male jogger surfaced three months after the incident. #AhmaudArbery became popular, and because his birthday was May 8th, supporters ran 2.23 miles and posted #IRunWithAhmaudArbery. 

Similar to when I wore my red t-shirt to raise awareness about Trayvon Martin eight years ago, I scrolled and wondered if this was enough to effect change. *Wouldn’t it be just a matter of time before another defenseless black person was killed?

But, what more could I do?

That’s when I asked my sister, Celeste Smith, co-founder of 1Hood Media and social justice activist to help me understand what would be impactful beyond posting a pithy saying and a hashtag.

Smith is an advocate of social media activism, but she agreed to provide additional ways that we can all be more active in our communities.

Vote, especially in local elections. Smith says voting is important. I mean we all saw what happened when African Americans rallied around one candidate for the 2008 and 2012 presidential election but voting for president isn’t the only office that’s imperative for our livelihood. Every aspect of American life is, in some way, shaped and governed by who represents us senatorially, congressionally, statewide, and locally. Who becomes sheriff and who is elected judge is important, especially when they are racist, anti-black, or represent racist ideals and can dictate how black citizens are policed.

Unify. Organize with likeminded individuals. Smith says, “Our greatest strength is our unity.” Organizations can be international, like Black Lives Matter, national, like the Players Coalition, or locally affiliated, such as the Color of Change in your city. Check the organization’s About page to see if it is aligned with your own core values. Organizations such as the ones listed are constantly and consistently supporting issues important for communities of black people. If this is where your interests lie, then there’s a place for you to help.

Support local activists. “You don’t have to be on the front line,” says Smith. “That ain’t everybody’s mission.” If you’re aware of an activist group in your area, then reach out to them online. Many times, their website lists ways that you can help. For example, Color of Change in my city is hosting an event to help “women returning to society from incarceration.” They are soliciting people who’d like to be a part of the host committee and all I have to do is complete a form. Perhaps, you don’t have time to devote in person. Smith says we should consider donating money or supplies or watching activists’ children. Connect with them and see what the activist needs.

While social media activism has its merits, such as garnering widespread awareness in a short amount of time, it is also important to be active in the in-between spaces. Voting, unifying, and supporting local activists are three ways to be involved before there’s an issue.

***

*I wrote this and planned to submit it to another platform a week before George Floyd was killed but held off and wrote Fire, instead. These days, I literally cannot write fast enough to inspire change.

Monday Notes: *FIRE!

In 1963, Bồ Tát Thích Quảng Đức set himself on fire (self-immolated) to protest religious oppression in Vietnam. Although the country was at least 70% Buddhist, landowners were Roman Catholic, and so was the president at the time. Subsequently, the president and others had created an environment biased in favor of Catholics, resulting in the oppression of Buddhists. So, Quảng Đức self-immolated (source).

Though, I’d seen photos, I could never imagine the image or smell. I could never imagine wanting justice so bad, that I’d set myself on fire to raise awareness and fight for a cause, yet he and other Buddhists did just that.

I read up on it recently. Apparently, Buddhist weren’t allowed to fly their flag for a religious holiday, while Roman Catholics had donned theirs just days prior. Catholics were being advanced in government and military positions, while Buddhist were not. Roman Catholics were forcing Buddhists to convert to their religion as a requirement for living in Vietnam and as a way to reap equitable benefits (source).

I now understand. Conditions were so deplorable and demeaning for Vietnam Buddhists that they resorted to extreme measures. To make a statement. To announce they weren’t taking the Roman Catholics’ shit anymore. They were over it.

Sounds familiar to me.

Though I would never set fire to anything, I understand. Constantly seeing police, representatives of the American government, murder Black people in the street, in broad daylight, on video, while simultaneously telling Black people when, where, and how to protest or not to protest evokes a sense of helplessness.

We’re told we’re American citizens, yet we don’t receive the benefits of a so-called just system. When cops kill Black people, we watch grand jury after grand jury after grand jury return with a decision to not indict. What’s left to do? To what and whom will the government listen?

Destruction of the system American capitalists hold so dear is what’s left. Burning buildings down, even if they’re in our own community and allegedly for own benefit is what’s left to do. It’s a clear manifestation of the suppressed anger and sadness we’re told to get over and stop harboring. It’s a demonstration of how we feel about being shown that our lives are dispensable.

I hear it clearly. Businesses are expendable. Buildings can be rebuilt. Police cars can be replaced. Similar to Quảng Đức’s self-immolation, protestors want to make a point.

However, there’s this part to consider. Vietnam Buddhists had a five-point plan they wanted enacted. After demonstrating, Buddhists were immediately prepared to ask for change from their government. Six days later, The Joint Communiqué was signed.

So, that’s my suggestion.

Black Americans, including born citizens, naturalized citizens, immigrants, Muslims, Christians, non-Christians, Israelites, and everyone in between need to have one unified voice of a multipoint plan, with oversight…for the entire nation, regardless of location.

Number one on the list should be STOP MURDERING US.

***

*24 hours after I wrote this, it was alleged that white nationalists infiltrated peaceful demonstrations, with looting and fires (source). Whether this is true or not, I maintain that radical action plus a unified plan has to occur to stop police from killing people who look like me; history has proven these two acts to be effective.

Black in America

It’s a great time to be African American. Just check your television listings. It’s like this:

I mean really. We have a well-rounded array of representation:

Black-ish

Luke Cage

Scandal

How to Get Away with Murder

The Get Down

Queen Sugar

Empire

Atlanta

A friend of mine called it a “renaissance of black culture.” I agreed. It sounds nice. Poetic. Artsy.  A “renaissance of black culture” makes me feel good, until the next unarmed black man is gunned down by police. I can laugh at the upper-middle class woes of the Johnsons, until the next #BlackLivesMatter call to action. I’m considering buying a bullet-hole hoodie like the Luke Cage characters. The satire hasn’t escaped me. I watch Annalise, her students and her clients get away with murder, just like the police in my country. I admire how Duvernay wove BMike’s art and his message about police brutality in the last Queen Sugar episode. And even though I loathe Empire, I’m glad there are actors who look like us on television to serve as entertainment, until someone chokes, shoots or hangs another person who looks like me in real life.

Yep. It’s a great time to be African American, as long as you’re on television.

 

Encouraging Activism: A Conversation with Rodney L. Hurst Sr.

Rodney L. Hurst Sr. has worked as a civil right activist for sixty-one years. His initial involvement with NAACP’s youth council led him to organize sit-ins at several downtown Jacksonville, Florida lunch counters during the 60s and 70s. The fight for equality and the subsequent and infamous Ax Handle Saturday are detailed in his memoir, It Was Never about a Hot Dog and a Coke®!

On May 26th Mr. Hurst and I discussed civil rights and advocacy. Unfortunately, his words are still timely.

KG:     Your book describes racial oppression and police brutality from decades ago. Has anything changed?

RH:     No.

KG:     Nothing at all?

RH:     I mean based on what we’re seeing today, we had instances of police brutality years ago, back in the 50s and 60s. We did not have pictures and videos. So, it was your word against ours. And they were agents of the courts, and after all they were white. So, all of those complaints were dismissed. It didn’t make a difference what you said. This did not happen. As you see what’s happening in the news today, very little has changed from years ago. All of that is the same. But now, because of video cameras, pictures and telephones, people are beginning to capture some of those images.

KG:     What do you think people can do today other than take pictures and videos?

RH:     First of all, the civil rights movement does not change. It is a marathon in the ongoing journey. You have to do whatever you can, organized or not.

KG:     Do you think people believed the civil rights movement was over?

RH:     Sure. Because when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed and the Civil Rights Act of ’68 passed. Aha! You know? We can sit back and rest. And then here comes Nixon and the Southern Strategy after Goldwater.

KG:     So what do we do?

RH:     That’s always a question. What do we do to fight?

KG:     Right. Especially, when it seems nothing’s going to happen.

RH:     If you feel like nothing is going to happen, and to get real philosophical, it’s just like living life…

KG:     Then you’re already defeated?

RH:     Yeah. If everything’s so ordinary, nothing’s going to happen to me, then why live? The struggle and the fight are so simple. Basically, you’re saying I want the same thing you promised in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Why is it that I have to deal with all of these things based on the hue of my skin?

liberty-bell-1442648_1280

One of the first things I’m in favor of doing is called telling the history right and the inclusion of black people in history. When you pick up a history textbook and you cannot read about any of the contributions any of your ancestors made, the playing field is not even. Yet, I can pick up a history book and read about the contributions of white Americans and Europeans.

KG:     That’s a good point, but today, teachers have set textbooks and they’re dealing with almost zero autonomy. They have to be careful about what they teach, what they say, and how they say it. What would you say to them?

RH:     The question then is, if you don’t teach American history and include the contributions I made, then why should I be interested in American history?

KG:     Do you think it’s a matter of being more courageous?

RH:     It was then. Today, it’s just a matter of teaching the truth.

KG:     Do you think educators have to be courageous to teach the truth?

RH:     Maybe, if teaching the truth requires courage. If you feel inhibited and afraid to teach the truth, then yeah it takes courage. But when you don’t teach the truth, then how can you teach an honest American history? So if teaching dishonest American history is okay, and you can teach it with no pushback, then what happens to your integrity as a teacher when you know what you’re teaching is dishonest and incomplete?

KG:     What about non-teachers? What can they do?

black_powerRH:     Sometimes you have to find out what works for you. A lot of my friends joined the youth council because everyone knew membership lists were not public. Many of them wanted to sit in, but their parents wouldn’t allow it. They did other things. They did not shop downtown.

KG:     Okay. So they still protested in a way?

RH:     Yes. Another example is a good friend of mine who’s a Quaker. To this day she does not eat table grapes because of Cesar Chavez and does not drink Coke products because Coke used to support the apartheid regime of South Africa. And that’s what she did, small things.

KG:     Even to this day, she does those things?

RH:     To this day…

KG:     I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

RH:     You know I hear a lot of people say, “Where are the Martin Luther Kings?” You are the Martin Luther King. You know? Don’t wait for someone to pick up and lead you.

#Justice for Tamir Rice

IMG_3486Whenever I wear this shirt, you should see the looks that I get. People gaze in amazement as if my name is George Zimmerman and I stood my ground against Trayvon Martin. They stare, eyes fixated on the word.

Justice.

My dad saw me in this shirt and he just laughed. He understood.

“They probably look at you and say Justice, What?” He was right. That’s exactly what my father-in-law asked.

“Justice?” He questioned with his hands outstretched and face bewildered.

It’s justice for anyone. Justice for everyone. But no one else has asked. Instead, people glance and do double-takes, as if my name is Michael Dunn and I just murdered Jordan Davis, an unarmed Black boy who wouldn’t turn his music down.

Justice.

People peer at the shirt as if the letters will change before their eyes. Maybe it reads Just ice, I imagine they’re thinking. But they never ask. Mostly, they gawk, like I was the cop who gunned down 12 year-old Tamir Rice on that cold Cleveland day. They whisper to their significant others as if I was the officer who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times in the middle of a Chicago street. Their glances speak volumes, as if it was me who kneeled on Eric Garner’s back and choked him to death on a New York city sidewalk. They glare at me as if I know what happened to Freddie Gray or Sandra Bland, two citizens found dead in police custody in Baltimore and Texas, respectively.

Justice.

Accusatory eyes wonder if I assassinated John Crawford in the middle of WalMart as he shopped. Maybe they believe I know why Michael Brown was not only executed, but also left to rot in the sweltering Ferguson heat.

And I want to say, don’t look at me. I’m just wearing a T-shirt that shows what we all want. A T-shirt that reminds everyone what every American citizen is supposed to have.

Justice for Jamar Clark.

Justice.

 

 

 

 

 

To Whom it May Concern

Maybe we should care before the riots. It seems that riots are what cause upheaval and intense emotion. Like this latest one in Baltimore. People seemed concerned because a CVS was set afire. And others were worried about the senior citizen building that was ablaze. Did you see it? How could “they” do such a thing? Those poor buildings burned and it’s clear why this would provoke anger; those apartments were in the making since 2006. Clearly it will take a long time to re-build another structure. But how long will it take Fredericka, Freddie Gray’s twin sister, to re-build a life without her brother?

Maybe we should care before the police brutality. Perhaps before the inexplicable happened to Freddie Gray in the back of a squad car. Or before Mike Brown was executed and left for dead in the hot summer street. Prior to Eric Garner’s video-recorded, police chokehold. Before John Crawford was murdered for allegedly waving a toy gun around in a right-to-carry state. And well before the cop that shot Tamir Rice in front of his sister. After all, he was just a man-child, pre-pubescent. Yes. Maybe we should care before another police officer feels his life is threatened by an unarmed Black man.

Maybe we should care before the poverty. But I’m not quite sure how to accomplish that one. You see 23% of the total population lives below the Baltimore poverty line. That’s an urban city though. It’s typical. Did you know that Ferguson is considered a suburb? And that Missouri community has about 26% living below the poverty line? I know what you’re thinking. Why don’t they just get jobs? Why don’t they just pull themselves up like my dad, mom, grandma, grandpa? Like me? Why don’t they?

I’m sure if they could find employment, then they would. And their minimum wage jobs would prevent them from being killed like the useless parts of society that they seem to represent. But the fact here is, we’ll never know. We’ll never know if Freddie Gray could’ve worked his way out of poverty. Mike Brown’s mother will never realize her son’s community college dreams, which may have lifted him higher. Tamir Rice’s mother and sister won’t even get to see him graduate middle school, high school or college, much less understand how a job would shift his life’s purpose.

So maybe we should care before the riots, before the police brutality and before the poverty. Maybe we should be active, instead of reactive.

To Whom it May Concern

Dear Humanity,

When will you return? It seems that you’ve decided to detour away from us in small increments. I’m not sure in what order though. Did you leave when cell phones were invented? I can understand how you might have thought that was a good time to exit. I mean who can blame you? I can barely go to dinner without looking at my phone, especially if the conversation begins to drag and my date excuses herself to the bathroom. It’s seems the most appropriate time to take a selfie or check Facebook.

Did you decide to check out when police officers started getting away with murdering people, instead of serving and protecting citizens? I would have left at that point too. Seemingly, police are now “above the law,” and parts of society feel hopeless. Some even think officers are warranted because they are just protecting themselves. I guess. They’ve asked me what would you do if some frightening, African American male were threatening you with his hands? I can never provide a good enough answer because I’m not licensed to carry a gun and use it for protection.

I’ve thought way too long about this. Perhaps you left when humans began waging war against one another for reasons ranging from religion to territory. But I’ve quickly dismissed this idea. It just couldn’t be. Societies have been going to war for centuries, and that would mean that you’d left us long ago before any of us knew you existed. The logic is slightly flawed.

The answer escapes me. And I suppose it doesn’t matter when you left anyway. All I can do now is beg. Beg for you to return. Please, humanity, come back to our society and replace pockets of inhumane behavior. Please, before it’s too late.

Sincerely,

kg, a concerned citizen