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.
Next, 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.
The 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.
A democracy is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
Sounds simple, right? The people have the power and we vote in elections so that other people can put in place the things we care about and want.
Well, just a second. I learned years ago that the United States of America is actually more akin to a republic, which specifically has an elected president, not a king or heir, and is “a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.”
Tomato…tomato, eh? I don’t know and I won’t bore you with more definitions. I’m just confused about what we’re doing here in America, which is supposed to be a democratic republic.
As I’m writing this, Kentucky successfully removed 3,530 polling locations. Closing polls made little sense to me. Even if this were a COVID-safety move and the government was concerned about social distancing, I don’t understand why the state would have fewer polls, instead of more. Wouldn’t more polls facilitate an easier process?
But you know what people in Louisville and Lexington did with one polling place? They stood in line for hours. The Kentucky primaries have ended. Joe Biden won. Charles Booker, a Black representative from Louisville, who ran to be the democrat on the ticket for Senate, lost. Was closing the majority of polling places purposeful? Will Kentuckians demand their polling places re-open, or will this be the norm for not only that state, but also others?
Furthermore, whether we live in a democracy or a republic, I’m concerned that voter suppression, a common occurrence in our country, continues to be a thing even though supreme power is supposed to lie with the people, not its leaders. Is supreme power of the people an illusion? Did we ever really have this power?
Maybe we’ve acquiesced our power for something more entertaining. For example, what else happened when Kentuckians found out there would be one polling place? Did people complain a little bit and go back to binge watching their favorite online show? Listen, I don’t want to bash the good people of Kentucky. And I’m not a sky is falling kind of person, but we are living in critical times. Life is exhausting. We are experiencing all of the things all of the time, but we still have to use our collective voice to attain fair and equal treatment within our republic. Don’t we?
Poll closing is a form of voter suppression and can occur anywhere, in any state. So, I have a few questions: What would you do if your state closed 95% of the polling places? Would you stand in line for six hours and hope they didn’t close more in November, or would you demand that your democratic right to elect officials be easier?
Think this can’t happen in your state? Here is more information about voter suppression and how it effects specific socioeconomic classes, races, and ethnicities.
The word ally has been thrown around the last few weeks. And I wanted to clarify a few things about the idea.
An ally, according to Merriam Webster, is one that is associated with another as a helper: a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle.
But what does this mean when we add the word white, as in white ally?
Loosely speaking, a white ally is someone who stands with Black people and our quest for equality and equity. However, I still want to go a little deeper.
Here’s what I’ve observed from decades of interacting with different types of white people in predominantly white spaces.
White allies speak up when something is “wrong.” Remember when I wrote about the girl who ordered a Jimmy John’s sandwich while I was teaching? Well, when I told the program coordinator about it, she called the student into her office and reprimanded her. This made space for the student to apologize and for me to handle it in a very upfront and authentic manner with the entire class. That same colleague also stood by and with me as we resolved the situation of the other student who’d failed. White allies do not shrink when faced with adversity that can be deemed wrong or read as racist.
White allies educate themselves about racism and then act accordingly. Many of the white people I personally know are either in academia or in academic situations. Consequently, my colleagues don’t ask me to recommend information; their reading lists are already extensive. These allies not only read, but they also apply information. During the first week of protests, a co-editor of a book I’m in process of publishing reached out to me and asked if she or the others could lighten my load. She recognized the trauma of watching a Black person murdered on video and offered a supportive solution.
White allies use specific language. Words matter. As I scroll through all of my socials, I can tell who is with me in the fight for dismantling systemic oppression and who is not. #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter are hashtags that symbolize a lack of understanding of Black issues and create separation of the larger issue. Churches and organizations that sponsor events to feed the police, while never mentioning how they can or have supported Black families who have lost lives due to police shootings send clear messages. Instead, allies share useful resources. Allies don’t say, “but what about…” Allies use #BlackLivesMatter with confidence and as a way to decenter themselves.
White allies are aligned even when there is no headline. At the risk of sounding cliché, many of my good friends are white. One of my friends is a woman who, during our teen years, lived less than eight blocks from me surrounded by Black people. She recently campaigned for Beto O’Rourke and has been a champion for social justice issues all her adult life. I have a Facebook friend who I’ve known since first grade; he is constantly raising issues about the injustices that Black people face in his California community. Another friend is a woman I met during my first job in academia. She has spent much of her 30+ career teaching Black children in culturally diverse ways and modeling how to do that for other educators. A fourth person is a white woman who has collaborated with others to diversify Oklahoma’s curriculum to include lessons on the Tulsa race massacre. White allies use their voices at all times because they realize systemic racism is a persistent part of American life.
Finally, for those of you who are still subscribed to this blog and sometimes comment with mutual understanding or add your new perspective of a social justice lens, I appreciate it. That’s my 5th example. White allies seek first to understand, not to advance their pre-established privileged perspective.
What else would you add to this list?
I also want to note that I have friends who are not allies and I know allies who are not friends; the terms are not synonymous.
When you live in a capitalistic society, then everything is commodified. Everything is for sale. Everything hinges on selling or not selling something. This hasn’t seemed truer than the last few months.
May 2020: Reopen everything!
In May, Florida began Phase I and Phase II reopening. There is no doubt in my mind (and I’m guessing anyone else’s) that this had little to do with people and more to do with stimulating the economy. Businesses that hadn’t already closed permanently were excited to get back to “regular” operations. I sent my husband to grab some guacamole, but he came back empty handed. According to his observation, our local Chili’s, as well as other restaurants that sold Mexican food, was well over 50% capacity on Cinco de Mayo. I’m guessing it was because these places wanted to make as much money as possible post-lockdown.
Profits over people? Right?
June 2020: Buy Black!
After George Floyd’s death, there was a huge push from the Black community to start “buying Black” because if one is buying Black, then that means that one is not putting money into mainstream American products. The idea is to remove money from one system and put it into another, thus negatively impacting the typical distribution of money and its operations in the country, because when you live in a capitalistic society, where everything is commodified, then removing dollars is an effective plan if everyone participates and if there are enough places to replace current operations.
Don’t stop spending money. Stop spending money in non-black spaces. That was the message. Right?
June 2020: Boycott!
In addition to buying Black, a list circulated that outlined which businesses have supported Donald Trump’s campaign. Off the top of my head, this list includes Walmart, Wendy’s, and Marvel. I remember these because my family and friends love to shop at Walmart. My oldest daughter supports herself by working at Wendy’s. Aaaand, my husband and youngest daughter have enjoyed most Marvel movies. I wondered how any of them (or other citizens) were going to boycott the things they admired so much. For Americans, these staples have made society wonderful. You know how much restraint you need to boycott businesses the American people have deemed essential?
The list includes Planet Fitness, where we have a gym membership, New Balance, my athletic shoe choice, and Shell Oil, the place where we sometimes pump gas.
What in the entire f…?
I apologize. I’m losing focus. The point is if we collectively boycott, then we can affect current circumstances by not supporting these businesses, which implicitly support a bad president.
Implicit financial support = complicit support of a politician. Right?
June 2020: MASKS!
I have nine masks. I bought two by the end of March that display one of my alma maters. I have another that I purchased at the UPS store in April; they have typewriters on them and include my favorite color: red. I’ve ordered another that has banned books on them because that seems kind of cool. Dwight bought us a couple that are African themed and four others, which are black. A friend I went to school with has a bedazzled one. It’s fabulous. She also has one that says, “This sucks,” because yeah, even though it saves live, wearing a mask does suck and nothing says it better than a statement mask. I’ve seen others that have matching head wraps. You know, like a scarf and matching mask? Who doesn’t wanna be Corona chic?
The person who sold me eyeglasses described another mask she saw someone wearing that looked like his dog’s mouth. Every time he spoke, it looked like a dog was speaking. She snort-laughed at the thought.
Not only can I get masks online, but also at *Old Navy. Let that sink in. The store where I used to get my most comfortable jeans just six months ago figured out a way to sell us fashionable cloth masks. Isn’t that nice of them?
Usually, I have something witty to say at the end of a blog post, but not today. Today, I just want to reiterate what I said before: When you live in a capitalistic society, then everything is commodified. Everything is for sale. Everything hinges on selling or not selling something.
*Honorable mention to Banana Republic’s new line of loungewear because who doesn’t need a pair of $80 joggers in which to do their Zoom meeting?
My daughter has a lot of positive qualities.
She is intelligent. I first realized just how smart she was when she was three-years-old. I begged the teacher to put her in the next class, but she disagreed, that is, until she interacted with her for two days.
“You were right,” she apologized, “I just thought you were like all the other parents who think their child is brilliant.”
The next day she was in the four-year-old class.
Her intelligence was reaffirmed years later at the end of third grade. I’d received her first state standardized test results. She’d gotten all the answers correct. Even with my background in education, I’d never seen marks like that.
She is caring. I remember when she cried because she was saving a lizard that had somehow entered the house, a frequent Florida occurrence. His little green tail fell off as she used a glass to capture him. She immediately burst into tears, but soon calmed down when I reminded her that lizards’ tails regenerate. She dried her face and released him outside where he belonged.
She is socially conscious. She loves being black and championing for black people in different ways, like when she assured her dark-skinned friend it was okay to stay in the sun; she had no fear of “getting darker,” and neither should he.
She can also be found telling her father and me about her new choice of water, why we shouldn’t be buying McDonald’s, why we should stop eating ‘carcinogens’ (e.g., meat), and why we should sign a petition about parolees.
She is kind. When she found out her big sister wouldn’t be able to attend our last trip, she offered to save more of her own check so that her sister could go. Of course her sister declined the offer, but my point is she offered. She also considers her friends and frequently stands up for them in different situations or is there for them when they need someone to listen.
She is trustworthy. This is why we had no problem passing my car to her at the age of seventeen. She drives to school and back home. She drives to work and back home. She drives to her friends’ houses for parties. She drives back to school for extracurricular activities. She drives to complete her service project once a week during the summer. She spends the night over friends’ houses, and when she doesn’t feel comfortable where she is, she texts me…and comes home. We trust her and her judgment.
These are the qualities that come to mind when someone asks me about my daughter. The last thing I consider is her sexual identity. I just wished society felt the same.
I 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.
There 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.