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.

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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!