theradishpress

Friday, June, 19, 15

#blacklivesmatter

Filed under: Uncategorized — theradishpress @ 9:33 am
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Depayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, The Rev. Celementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, The Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson.

These are the nine people killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, Wednesday, June 17.

Nine people. Nine African Americans. Murdered by a white man. Dylann Roof opened fire after apparently announcing the need to stop African Americans from raping “our” women and taking over the country.

As the story has been unfolding in the media, Dylann Roof is being presented as someone with a troubled mind and altercations in the past. Despite the fact that Roof blatantly targeted African Americans in an historical Black church, and authorities are calling his acts a hate crime, Roof is still being presented as some sort of wounded individual. Wounded by mental illness or a dark past. And, the most obvious words are not being stated by the authorities, that this is an act of racism. That Roof acted out of hatred for Black people. To call it what it is would require examining why. And examining why would lead to acknowledging that racism is still very present in the United States and that, according to this country, Black lives, in fact, do not matter.

Labeling Roof’s act a hate crime is also a very purposeful choice of words, South Carolina does not have any laws preventing or punishing hate crimes. As far as the state of South Carolina is considered, from a legal standpoint, Dylann Roof committed murder. Not murder prompted by hate or racism, just murder.

Roof’s arrest is being compared, by some, to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner (just to name two). Brown and Garner were brutally murdered by police officers despite the fact that both were unarmed and begged for their lives. Brown asked why he was being shot and Garner, who was choked to death, declared his inability to breathe. The recent death of Freddie Grey in Baltimore, who was killed while in police custody, is another example of how Black lives are taken by the people who are supposedly intended to protect and serve. Meanwhile, Dylann Roof was escorted to a police car wearing a bullet proof vest – for his protection.

Let us not forget Jonathan Ferrell. Ferrell, a young Black man, was killed by police in Charlotte, NC, not far from where Dylann Roof was arrested. Ferrell had crashed his car and after a white home owner would not assist him and rather called police, Ferrell was shot multiple times, and killed as he ran towards police disoriented and seeking assistance.

When will we, as a nation, acknowledge that racism is still very much a part of the United States experience? Will we? What if Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s bombing of the Boston Marathon had not been considered an act of terrorism? What if their attack had been referred to simply as a hate crime or as murder?

To call Roof’s attack an act of terrorism would mean involving the federal government. And involving the federal government would require some deeper analysis. It would require more attention, long drawn out attention that would last throughout the trial and sentencing. By keeping Roof’s actions locally based, this story can die in the mainstream media. The media can abandon it the second Kim Kardashian bats an eyelash or Brad Pitt takes a shit.

The terrorism enacted by Roof against Depayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, The Rev. Celementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, The Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson, as well as the entire Black community, needs attention. It is up to us to keep calling out the names of those killed by the terrorist actions of Dylann Roof, the police, and the United States government. Senators, governors, the president – they can all talk about how sorrowful they are. They can all talk about gun control. They talk and talk. What they do not do is acknowledge the terrorism that is racism. They do not act.

Dylan Roof is 21. If racism were truly over, a 21 year-old would not sport confederate flags and think he has the right – the duty – to kill Black people.

Dylan Roof just did what he saw authorities doing. This country is systemically removing Black people from their homes, keeping them poor, and killing them. To call Roof a terrorist is absolutely what he is. To call this country terrorist is true too.

Let us not forget:

Rumain Brisbon, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Eric Garner, Yvette Smith, McKenzie Cochran, Jordan Baker, Miriam Carey, Jonathan Ferrell, Kimani Gray, Freddie Grey, Chavis Carter, Kendrec McDade, Shereese Francis, Wendell Allen, Alonzo Ashley, Aiyana Jones, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, the list goes on.

And because there is already so much literal white washing of the terrorist attack and attention being given to Roof and his personal life , let us remember who was killed:

Depayne Middleton Doctor – Retired, 49 year-old mother of four.

Cynthia Hurd – Regional Library Manager for St. Andrews Regional Library.

Susie Jackson – 87 year-old member of the church.

Ethel Lance- Cousin of Susie Jackson, 70 year-old retiree.

The Rev. Celementa Pinckney – Emanuel AME Church’s pastor and a state senator. He has a long history of outreach with the Black community.

Tywanza Sanders – 26 year-old who was shot when trying to protect a family member. He recently graduated from Allen University.

The Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr. – 74 year-old pastor at Emanuel AME and also a graduate of Allen University.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton – She was a mother of three, reverend, and high school track coach.

Myra Thompson – 59 year-old, and the third pastor of Emanuel AME.

Sources: The Root, CNN, Think Progress, Gawker

Thursday, May, 1, 14

Game of Thrones – Mythical History and Why Rape Need Not Exist

One of the appeals of Game of Thrones is that it appears to be historical fiction. In reading the books and watching HBO’s adaptation, it’s easy to get lost in a seemingly historical portrayal of our world. Then a dragon or a White Walker appears and you’re quickly reminded that this is fantasy.

The third episode of the fourth season featured a rape scene. It’s not the first rape scene in the series – the books are sadly more explicit when it comes to rape – but it is one of the more disturbing violations yet. Jaime Lannister rapes his sister Cersei next to the dead body of their son, Joffrey. Sadly, the fact that the Lannister siblings are/were lovers has caused some viewers to question whether or not it’s rape. She said no. It’s rape. End of fucking discussion.

Before this episode aired, I’d been thinking a lot about rape in Game of Thrones. That anyone is debating whether or not Jaime raped Cersei is problematic and disturbing. It is also telling of our society. Why is rape up for debate? Why is there so much violence against women in Game of Thrones? I realized one reason the series feels like historical fiction is that it is riddled with white supremacy and sexism. Aamer Rahman has written about the white supremacy and white savior complex in the series, specifically in regard to Daenerys TargaryenShe isn’t just fair skinned, even her hair is strikingly white. She walks from Brown city to Brown city liberating poor Brown people from their slave masters. You know, so they can fight for her, win her the crown, and then…what? And Daenerys herself is the victim of violence. She was sold by her brother into a “marriage.” She was raped by her husband, but it’s written so that she totally gets into the rape and falls in love with him, so no worries, bros! Did I mention her husband was totally a savage and she helped tame him? So much racism and sexism intertwined, my head might explode.

Cersei and Daenerys are not the only victims of rape. In the fourth episode of season four, former Night’s Watchmen are seen raping women “until they’re dead” and threatening to rape Meera Reed. I felt my stomach churn watching these disgusting men. And I found myself wondering, “why I am still watching this show?” Every female in the story is either raped or threatened with rape.

Considering that Game of Thrones is fantasy, why is rape (and white supremacy) necessary? George RR Martin could easily have created a world without white supremacy and rape. And listen, watching vengeance enacted – most often by men – against the rapists is not as satisfying as it NOT EXISTING. 

I understand that when creating art we use things we know, and all stories are variations of stories that have already been told. I also understand that this kind of writing is lazy and lacks creativity.

Arguing that Daenerys is a strong woman and genuinely invested in freeing enslaved people is a convenient way to ignore both issues. So what if she is? She still inhabits a made up world that allows her whiteness to gain the loving devotion of Brown people only she is apparently capable of saving; it also allows for her to be subjected to violence against her female body. As a female bodied person of color, I am tired of being on the receiving end of violence and discrimination.

I want creators like Gene Roddenberry who can imagine worlds where humans have evolved and are trying to better themselves. Star Trek is by no means perfect, but at least Roddenberry tried, and worked against expectations. I want writers who make up entirely fantastic worlds that reach outside the realm of what our reality is and create something better, something that challenges us, something to aspire to.

Friday, February, 7, 14

12 Years a Slave

When the film ends – over two hours of a harsh reality I have never seen so blatantly exposed on a Hollywood screen – words come across the screen declaring that there is no knowledge of how, when, or where Solomon Northup died. There it is, the value of Black life in our society. Solomon Northup survived being drugged and sold into slavery, wrote his own story, and then worked as an abolitionist, only to be forgotten and swept under the proverbial rug. I began to think back on my public school education in Fairfax County Virginia – one of the wealthiest and (boasting) most diverse school districts in the United States. The topic of slavery was glossed over. There was never any room for debate – an agreed upon bad thing from our past, but there was never any examination of slavery and its impact on African-Americans and the entire country. 

While slavery was never up for debate in the classroom (I guess good job on that front teachers), there was a definite period – primarily in elementary school – when we were taught about Columbus, Ponce de Leon, and other colonizers as if they were heroes. If these men were heroes then presumably their actions were heroic. Thankfully, I was raised in a house where we were told the truth in regard to colonization – after all, I am from two heritages that have been colonized – and the subsequent genocide of indigenous tribes on North and South American soil, and then the slave trade. But still, that was my fortune at home – the school system made little effort to expose the horrors of colonization and slavery.

As I watched 12 Years a Slave I kept thinking about how important Northup’s story is. Steve McQueen does a brilliant job of not shying away from the brutality of slavery. And there are no white saviors. Yes, Brad Pitt portrays a man (Bass) who assists Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in regaining his freedom, but when Bass is first introduced he uses the “n” word when speaking in reference to the enslaved men he is working with – at the same time, arguing with Epps (Michael Fassbender) over the immorality of slavery. Bass’ use of the word and hesitation at helping Northup set him apart as not a clear hero – too often stories about oppressions against people of color are told from a White perspective (Dances With Wolves, Geronimo, Cry Freedom), and the writers could have easily tried to make Bass a completely likable character. But this is Northup’s story, not Bass’, not Epps’, no one but his.

The film is a reminder of the ways in which slavery and the oppression of African-Americans is still so engrained in US culture. That Northup could not trust White people, the rifts created between Black and White women, pitting Black folks against each other, denying proper education and disenfranchising Black youth – all these experiences that Northup and other Black folks in the film endured, are in effect today as well. Yes, I know that Black folks are not in shackles, so don’t bother commenting that. And I know that there are people who would argue this point – White people, let’s be real – and ask for specific examples. The thing is, if you don’t know this to be the case and refuse to believe it, I have zero interest in engaging in a debate. There is nothing to debate. There are DC public schools that are a reflection of how our country values or devalues Black life and education, there is Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s current celebrity status, there is Miley Cyrus co-opting Black culture and identity along with a long list of other White pop stars, there is the fact that the majority of men in prisons are Black, and I could continue. But these are only the blatant discriminations, not even the micro-aggressions that occur on a daily basis. And as I stated, there is no debate.

When Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulson) throws the liquor bottle at Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) I was so stunned by the pure cruelty of the act. As Mistress Epps’ jealousy of Patsey grew and violence toward Patsey escalated, I began to think about the layers of complexity within the story. There are moments of sadness for Mistress Epps – I was shocked at the sadness I felt for Mistress Epps, stuck in a marriage to a cruel man who has no interest in her sexually. Slavery and the constant rape of Black women by White men created animosity from White women, only the anger was directed at Black women. As if Patsey and other Black women had some say in the actions of these White men. That Mistress Epps’ rage was directed at Patsey and not her husband goes to show the depth and reach of racism. I was also reminded of the ways in which patriarchy prevails, pitting women against each other, while men remain without fault. 

Armsby (Garret Dillahunt) and Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) were fascinating characters as well. tHe latter because he seems in some ways genuinely kind, but when it came down to it, he was just as scary as Epps. In some ways, a man like Ford is more terrifying because at least Epps was clear in his cruelty. There was no question that Epps could not be trusted. Ford seemed perhaps to have goodness to him, but ultimately, Ford only wanted to protect himself and refused to hear Northup’s truth. Ford also gave Northup to Epps. Armsby though, is the perfect example of White guilt and White supremacy. Armsby works the cotton fields along the African-Americans who have been enslaved. It is a reminder that poor White people were also subjected to some of the labors of slavery. Armsby, though, is not beaten and is publicly forgiven and shown kindness for doing a terrible job, while the African-Americans are whipped and beaten routinely. Armsby reveals to Northup – as he helps salve Northup’s lashed back – that he was once in charge of regulating slaves for a plantation owner. Armsby became a drunk and could not work, and was then sentenced to the cotton fields. Armsby tells Northup that the task of hitting another human takes its toll, which led him to drink. He said that some men buried the pain of it, and others drank it away. Armsby’s acknowledgment that his work was inhumane causes Northup to think he can trust Armsby with the task of helping him regain his freedom. Armsby’s quick betrayal is yet another reminder of White supremacy – Armsby saw a way to gain himself loyalty from Epps and get money from Northup. By the time Bass was on screen all I could think was “No, don’t trust him! He’s white!” 

When Bass came through for Northup I wondered at the casting of Brad Pitt. I could not help but think that as one of the producers Pitt would rather be in a favorable light. And I wondered at the extent to which White guilt can dictate actions. Did Pitt want to be a “good guy” in a film with so many horrible White characters? And can we blame him? I can’t say that I wouldn’t necessarily want the same. It made me wonder at Ejiofor and Fassbender as well. The former is an English native of Nigerian heritage and the latter a German native of Irish and German descent. This particular story is not native to their homes, but as Fassbender stated in his Daily Show interview, it is a universal and important story. Slavery was common in other colonizing parts of the world – it lasted longer in the United States, but not exclusive to it. And I wondered more at McQueen, a Black Englishman. Perhaps this story is best told from an outsider perspective. There is no desire to hide behind guilt or shame. The first McQueen film I saw was Hunger (starring Fassbender) about Irish nationals who went on a hunger strike under English imprisonment. I wondered at an Englishman telling this story, but upon realizing McQueen is Black my thought was “oh, he gets it. He knows what it’s like to be Othered”. The point is, Northup’s story, and the story of slavery in the United States is an important part of our history. It is part of what has shaped our nation, and we cannot ignore that fact. We cannot ignore the fact that its impact is prevalent. There are Black folks alive today who have relatives not that long dead who were enslaved, and there are Black folks alive today who lived under Jim Crow. To argue that slavery is a thing of the past is to diminish or straight out ignore the consequences of its existence. 

 

 

Tuesday, November, 11, 08

there does need to be change

Filed under: a moment in my head — theradishpress @ 12:31 am
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by theradishpress

I have been thinking a lot about President Obama. I have to admit that I was more surprised and excited than I expected to be at discovering his victory. No, I did not vote for him. I did not vote at all. And yes, I expect him to keep his promises and there are certain things, like his very vocal support of the state of Israel, that I cannot get behind.

That being said, I am still in a pleasant shock that this country elected an African-American man as president. And now that Barack Obama is president it is time not only for him to fulfill his promises, but for his supporters and for everyone in this country to be an ally to him.

Having a black man as president does not negate this country’s past, nor its current state. The truth is that this country would not be here if it were not for the slaves who built it. The truth is that James Byrd was dragged to his death merely for being African-American. The truth is that in Jena, Louisiana a white student was allowed to get away with blatant acts of racism while the six African-American students who defended themselves were accused of violence. The truth is that right now black voters are being held accountable for the passing of Proposition 8. Any person who claims that racism has ended is lying and ignoring the truth.

The election of Barack Obama is an opportunity for all USers to come together as allies and work together to fight racism. We can open communication. We can bring about true change. While some may say this country was founded on freedom and equality, others note that it was also founded on genocide and enslavement. This is a chance for true democracy, for all of us to hold this country and ourselves accountable.

Now, this does not mean that we blindly follow our leader(s), in fact, we never should. After all, this country was also founded on revolution. This does not mean that President Obama should not be held accountable for his decisions either. But this also means that we need to really examine the media, politicians, and ourselves. How do we react to President Obama and his decisions? Perhaps Dave Chapelle’s skit “Black Bush” should be watched a few times by all of us.

When African-American men were given the right to vote they came together in their communities and decided as a community who to vote for. In my own Iranian and Muslim communities I have seen this same method. Voting is not an individual act (as is choosing to not vote) rather something done for a larger community. And so we as a country can learn from this. We can learn from the need that those people in marginalized communities have faced, the need for true democracy.

I expect great things from all of us.

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