Black Lives Still Matter

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Me in Washington Park, Albany NY (Tulip Fest 2015)

Me in Washington Park, Albany NY (Tulip Fest 2015)

I am on a short vacation to visit mom in Connecticut. I need this time off, more than you know, and I thought it would be nice to see her for Mother’s Day. It’s been a busy few days, but enjoyable. Yesterday me, mom, and baby took a trip to Albany, NY for the Tulip Festival in Washington Park. They crowned the Tulip Queen, who, if I recall, will go on to head a literacy campaign and other interesting socially conscious stuff, along with her court. The mayor was there. Lots of vendors, with cool, interesting and frivolous wares for sale, food for which you want to take a laxative to get out of your system, thousands of gorgeous tulips, sun and hot and general happiness, a little lake where you could sit under trees and catch a breeze, adult beverages, people with kids in strollers, live music… It was nice.

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There were also a couple of small but significant (at least to me) protests.

Just as the Tulip Queen was about to be announced a group of about 20 folks stepped forward to shout “Black Lives Matter!” They did this for about five minutes and moved along. This thrilled me. I mean, isn’t that a thing to be proud of? In the midst of tulip queen crowning there are still people who want to come out and remind us of the things that are truly important to the country and world at large. The Tulip crowning is important in the city of Albany, part of its Dutch heritage, and a vehicle for service for the young woman crowned, but there are things even larger than this. The brutality that young black men encounter on a day to day basis is enormous and tragic. Though the spotlight shines brightly on this issue now, it isn’t nearly bright enough, and it isn’t new. Modern tech has been said to make slaves of us, but I say it is a Godsend. There are few things more beautiful than a camera phone.

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Later, as me and family strolled through Washington Park, I saw a group of elderly white folks also taking a stand for Black Lives. This struck me harder and deeper than even the first protest. I had to stop, take a picture or five or six, give them my thanks and a thumbs up. I know there are good people out there, but we (and by we, I mean, I) often expect the old guard to be out of step with current issues of race. Especially the old white guard. This is an erroneous concept, at least in part.

After this, I was stopped by the local press. Well, a man with a camera and a mic. “Can I ask you a few questions about what you saw over there (referring to the Black Lives Matter protest)?”

“Sure,” I told him. I’m sure he saw me and thought, this lady is a fortune in diversity. And, you know what? I’m happy to be.

He asked me what I thought of the protest. And also, “Have you ever experienced racism?”

Mwa-ha-ha-ha! That was the jackpot question of the day. And a slightly stupid one, if I may say. I’m African-American, I’m Muslim, and I’m a woman.

Have I ever experienced racism? Take a guess.

It’s easy to get caught up in our day to day busy. Our day to day busy quickly and easily becomes more important to us than the huge things that are happening out there in the world. Our car trouble, or the fact that we need to pick up eggs and milk for tomorrow’s breakfast, or the coffee stain on our work shirt, is eminently more pressing than say, the plight of the Palestinians, or hungry children in our own country, or the sexism women face in the workplace, or the lives of black men that are being stolen wholesale by the very people employed to protect and serve them.

This all made me think about a brief but very meaningful Twitter convo I had with a few friends recently about what it means to be an allie. Admittedly none of us had all of the answers, but I can say this. Being an allie is more than lip service. Being an allie is standing outside in the heat, holding up signs in silent protest, when everyone else is walking around drinking gallon size mugs of lemon aid. Being an allie is taking a chance at ruining everyone else’s good time to remind them that dammit, there are lives at risk out there and that it affects us ALL even though it may seem like it doesn’t. Being an allie is taking time out of your day to stand in the midst of a Tulip Festival only to be ignored and overlooked by everyone else. Except me.

#BlackLivesMatter

Still.

Amistad Memorial in New Haven, CT

Amistad Memorial in New Haven, CT

Amistad Memorial in New Haven, CT

Amistad Memorial in New Haven, CT

The Reason I Don’t Watch the News

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Granada, de Cine This morning as I was headed to the kitchen to prepare a late breakfast for my family I stopped for a moment to catch a particularly compelling bit of news on an international news channel. There was this looping reel of footage that kept showing the body of a tiny girl wrapped in a white sheet. She was dead after having been brutally raped by two men who had kidnapped her. This footage also showed the poor girl’s shell shocked parents. Their grief was palpable.

This is why I don’t watch the news.

According to the news report, the kidnapping and rape of young women is nearly epidemic in India which is second only to the United States. The reporter interviewed young women on the streets of India regarding the recent passage of laws that would mete out severe punishments to any man convicted of rape. This was all complicated by the fact that the numbers of women who are actually willing to report the crime are minimal due to the shame of having been the victim of such a crime. Yes, the victim is shamed and blamed.  The perpetrator? Not so much. This is misogyny at its worse, when it is woven into the very fabric of the culture. It is sad, unjust, and plain horrific.

This is why I don’t watch the news.

But, just so we don’t point blaming fingers at India, or some country in the Middle East, or any other so-called third world country we’d like to pretend is so much less progressive than we are in the West, misogynistic ideals and a whole host of other cross-cultural cross-societal ills is as broad and diverse as the people who uphold and abide by them.

It doesn’t matter the country or culture because people are people, and not all of us are good. And of those of us who are good, not all of us are completely good.  Simply, we live in a world of mostly good intentioned people, but amongst those good people is another more insidious element that we should all be afraid of.  They are there.  We don’t know who they are but, we work with them and go to school with them and we talk to them while waiting in line at the register.

Why don’t I watch the news?

Because it makes me angry, and because it scares and saddens me. Watching the news makes me lose faith in the world and the people in it. And, I’ll sound a little Sybil-ish here, it also gives me a tiny bit of weird hope. In our ever shrinking global community we are learning more and more about each other and as such we are slowly eliminating misconceptions about people who are different from us. We are sharing the best of ourselves and hopefully doing away with the worst. As long as there is an Earth with people living on her face, we will see ugliness and injustice and error, but things can be better, right? This is my hope.

This also brings me to the topic of my writing. My major WIP, Bilqis, which will be book one of the Hinterland Chronicles, echoes much of my woes about the state of the world we live in, personal and global.

I am fortunate to have had extremely few openly racist or anti-Muslim experiences in my life. I’ve had people say some incredibly asinine things to me, but I’m not hypersensitive and I can generally determine the difference between malice and ignorance. With that said, we all know that racism still exists and anti-Muslim sentiment is pervasive and in many instances heartily accepted. This is what the Hinterland Chronicles addresses.

What I’ve attempted to create is a world/society that is scarred by religious turmoil and racism, much like our own. Imagine that the government, with the best of intentions, has tried to solve the issue of religious and racial divisiveness by outlawing the practice of any faith. Imagine that those people who persist in religious observances are punished, ostracized, and ejected from the major cities. Imagine that they are forced to make their lives scavenging off the land which is a vast wasteland.

What do you think would happen?

I’m still working on the first draft, but it is difficult to write about issues of faith/religion without sounding as if I am preaching and proselytizing, which I am not. I pray that I am successful.

We should absolutely mine information from our experiences and the world for our writing.  This includes the news.  I suppose I’m simply not strong enough to tolerate it… or to say it in a more forgiving way, I’m too sensitive. On second thought, it isn’t an altogether bad thing is it? Aren’t most writers and artists intuitive deep thinking individuals?

If they’re not… shhh. Don’t ruin the illusion. I kind of like it.

Foyt’s Revealing Eden: Racist or Bad Writing? Or both?

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Some of you may be aware of the recent hoopla surrounding the book Revealing Eden by Victoria Foyt.  RE is book about an alternate future (is that an appropriate term?) in which we’ve essentially destroyed our environment and atmosphere necessitating life underground.  Those who are fair-skinned are in a sense, at the bottom of the food chain and are enslaved by those who have dark skin.  Okay let me make this easy here and just say it.  This book is supposedly about an extreme case of societal reverse racism.  For a complete synopsis, go here.

I’ve been following reviews of this book online for a few weeks.  Here’s one particularly entertaining post by the passionate folks over at the Requires Only Hate site.  Let me say, if I were Foyt I’d be looking for a rock to crawl under.  Reviews have been scathing and that’s putting it mildly.  I’m only into the second chapter myself and I intend to stick it out as long as my little ole heart and eyes can stand it.  Thus far I can say that the writing style is… distracting and that is actually my biggest problem with the book itself thus far.

Thus far…

Outside of the book, my biggest issue is with the promotional videos.  Have you seen them?  In old time minstrel form they are in blackface.  No lie.  BLACKFACE.  Ms. Foyt denies this, but come on, I can see.  I know blackface when I see it and there’s no way to make something as disgusting seem artistic and enlightened.  That said, even when I first saw the videos, which was prior to reading the negative reviews, I thought to myself, Hmm, maybe she doesn’t realize how wrong this is.  Maybe she is just trying really hard to make a point about racism.  Yeah, I said this despite the obvious poor taste in which they were produced.

Being an African-American (and  Muslim, which encourages a whole different degree of patriotic bigotry) who has experienced racism on multiple levels, I’m still not entirely convinced that Foyt is racist, at least not in the ways that she is being accused.

Can we be honest here?  Really honest?

Racism is alive and well and often so subtle and so ingrained we often don’t notice it unless we’re paying attention.  Racism is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche that people are racist and sometimes don’t even realize it.  If I were to be really nice, and non-judgmental and oh so PC, I’d clean up my last statement by saying that sometimes people say racist things but are not themselves racist.

I’m not inclined to be that nice about it though.  But let me be clear, I’m not on the hunt for the next racist, but I am more than willing to point it out and scream “FIRE!” when I see smoke.  The thing that is most important to me as regards racism isn’t claiming not to be racist, but being alert and conscious to potentially racist attitudes and doing your best not to perpetuate those ideas.  That is the job of every person who would like to stamp out racism.

I think Foyt may very well be racist, but I’ll save that judgment until I’ve finished the book, or as much of it as I can stand.  The writing really isn’t very good.  Even then, I may not be in such a hurry to call her such.  The reason being, I don’t know her heart, only her book (disgusting though it may be/seem), and her blackface videos (what in the world was she thinking???) and the comments she has posted on her Facebook page in defense of her book and the premise.

Let’s talk about one Facebook comment that has people in a tizzy.  In response to the absolute backlash, she made this comment on her Facebook page, “So what does the lack of any racial outrage or puzzlement or fervor amidst the tremendous rain of positive reviews possibly say? Conceivably, if the book had not reached the African-American community of readers, if such a category still exists, perhaps there might be some backlash. The first young African American reader who responded to me loved the book. But then, she’s the kind of free spirit who would eschew limiting herself to a single category. ”

Hmm.  I say, hmm.  Again, I know racism when I see it, but I’m not sure this statement can be construed as such.  People are taking this to mean that she is saying that African Americans do not read.  I’m not seeing that.  It sounds to me that she is saying that African Americans are a broad eclectic group of readers and that there is no such thing as an African American who only reads literature by African Americans.  And this is pretty true in my estimation.

Let’s look at the flip side though.  Whether racist or not, Foyt’s book has received beaucoup attention and publicity, hasn’t it?  And that’s all you need to sell lots and lots of books, right?  (Hell if I could get more likes and reviews on my Amazon page I might be making an actual profit on my book, but that is another story altogether.)  I was given a copy of RE.  I was simply unwilling to pay money for a book I knew to very potentially be racist.  I didn’t want to give up my money for that, so had I not been given a copy, I likely would have never even attempted to read it in its entirety.

For the moment I’m inclined to take Foyt’s word for it, that this book was a provocative attempt on her part to expose and fight racism.  About that, I’ll just say it appears that she has failed miserably to make her point and has only succeeded in proving that she doesn’t really have a clue about how to go about doing that.  I’m all for breaking down barriers, especially the PC one, in an effort to reach those unspoken truths too many people are afraid to voice, but not all people are savvy enough to effectively challenge those boundaries.  Those who are not, should perhaps leave it to those who are.

That said, I believe that people have the right to hold the views they so desire and even to write about them as long as doing so does not harm others.  Is this book harmful?  Well that’s a subjective argument.  So far, it only hurts me in as much as I despise bad writing.  And, I can do something to alleviate the pain, can’t I?  I could delete it from my Kindle and forget it ever existed.

I’ll let you know what I end up doing.

*****

There are some who have made it their mission to stop the so-called literary bullies over at Goodreads.  They support RE.

Here’s what folks over at Goodreads thought.

Hated it!