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Affirm Urself

I love you.

You are beautiful.

I know you can do anything.**

  • Record this on your phone.
  • Listen regularly especially when in doubt, love or trouble.
  • Encourage others.

This is just one of the ways we can build the “strength to love,” as Dr Martin Luther King urges in his eponymously titled book. I use this affirmation with my students in order to encourage them to build confidence, self-esteem and become aware of any self-loathing they many carry. It takes confidence to listen to others before speaking one’s own mind and embrace change. It’s easy to be toxic, especially online. It takes guts, however, to resist insulting others who have differing perspectives. It takes tenacity to think twice and NOT respond with greed, anger or stupidity (i.e. to lead a life freer of GAS).

Certainly, those who labour in the classroom have often come to realize that in addition to teaching our subject matter, we’re often teaching people how to become more confident. Nowhere is this more visible than in urban Asia, filled with youth, sandwiched between cultures online, wedged between generations that have steep distinctions. Youth in Asia are regularly assaulted with all the wonders of the world right in their pockets, but confronted with the reality of ‘development’. They’re often to young/inexperienced to recognize that no nation is ‘there’ yet, so they falsely hold up the west as a beacon of hope. I say hold up a mirror to one’s self, with the fierce determination to see nothing but love and acceptance. THAT, my friends, is development.

**Adapted from Lizzo, live at Glastonbury 2019. See here move the crowd here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnIbJi_jWII

Then she has the crowd say: “I love you Lizzo. You are beautiful, girl. And you can do anything, b*tch. Do it on your good days, but especially do it on your bad days ’cause that sh*t is like medicine, man!”

Bang! Smash! Pow! Representation Matters. #BlackenAsiaWithLove

A superhero walks into a bar.

A reporter walks up and offers a drink.

They end up spending the night together, and a love affair ensues.

*

A superheroine walks into a bar.

A reporter walks up to her and offers a drink.

They end up spending the night together, and a love affair ensues.

*

A Black superheroine walks into a bar.

A Black reporter walks up to her and offers a drink.

They end up spending the night together, and a love affair ensues.

*

A Black superheroine walks into a bar.

A Black woman reporter walks up to her and offers a drink.

They end up spending the night together, and a love affair ensues.

That’s Black Lightning.

*

Superman and Lois Lane got to love one another, and

Wonder Woman fell in love with the first man she met.

For generations of Sci-Fi and superheroes,

Everybody was straight and white.

The Star Trek franchise has been imagining a fairer future since the 60’s, but

It’s only now -on the newest Star Trek show – that

Yellow, black, white, red and brown people portray species from throughout the galaxy.

Finally, things as fickle as religion or gender identity aren’t barriers to love.

*

I earnestly wonder if it was the creators or the audiences who couldn’t see anybody else loved, but straight white people?!?

That only straight white men could save the day.

Representation matters.

Which superhero did you see at first?

A sissy works at the beer garden. #BlackAsiaWithLove

A sissy works at the beer garden I pass on the way home. In Vietnam, these common watering holes are called “Bia Hoi,” and this one sits at the intersection of two major roads, across from one of the city’s largest parks, on a corner adjacent to one edge of a university campus. To say that this place is a sausage fest would be an understatement. Like drinking holes in so many parts of the world, this is a space for men.

Men come here. Me, too. Although I stick out as a visible foreigner, I am part of the crowd of men. In every part of the world I’ve encountered, there’s nothing weird about a guy sitting around having a beer. Hence, it’s not uncommon for local groups of men to send one over, or invite me to their table for a drink. This has drastically different implications than men in pubs buying drinks for women, especially a woman sitting alone in a drinking hole, which is the LEAST likely thing to see here, despite the number of Bia Hoi’s owned and run by women in Vietnam. The majority here are either men in starched shirts and slacks stepping out, or other groups of guys crossing from the park to gather here for a post-match drink. I started coming here years ago with a man I met through work, and stop by every now and again. As compared to other masculinized spaces, there’s no competition here, and the primary resource – beer – flows freely.

The sissy wears an apron to serve the food and beer. He ties his apron tightly over the same loose orange T-shirt all the other guys wear to serve. This, of course accentuates his curves. While the others walk around baggy, clothes hanging loosely like a barrel sac, with this apron, the sissy has seriously upgraded the uniform with color, shape and flare. What’s more, his hips switch back-n-forth, too quick to be a pendulum. Naw, he switches like nobody’s business, and you really see this the way the beer garden is set-up with several rows of long tables. This is his cat walk. While the other servers seem to be drudging through the labor, the sissy flutters around like a butterfly. And he always looks at each customer, takes time to chat, and seems to have the patience of Job when it comes to their eventual drunkenness. Beer loosens tongues.

The sissy has to march back and forth the serve the orders like a busy bee. It’s hot, so the sissy fans himself with the menu, like it’s a prop, as he prances up-n-down the rows as if it’s his own stage. Everyone else pales in comparison, they’re just there to work. The sissy is there to ‘work’, or as Fergie says: “Make YOU work!” Life’s a stage, they say, and er’body gotta play they part.

The sissy stands at each table like a tea-cup, grinning, weight shifted to one leg, hips leaning to the side, back arched, hand on his hip, holding a pen waiting for the men to call out their food orders. Unlike the other servers who seem to just stand there bluntly to take orders, the sissy acts like a host, and actively shows folks their seats, offers that they take a look at the menu, and genuinely makes sure they are all satisfied.

This sissy has mad flavor, even in this part of his career – of which I know nothing – save for what I’ve seen of him serving beer in a local Bia Hoi. He makes such a flutter when he moves around, just doing his job, that I too, see him on stage, among peers, not drowning in this mundanity. I almost wish he would bring some Hot Lunch from Fame, for those hips are already singing the body electric. Those shoulders practically shimmering as he walks friskily across the pavement, arms stretched open, elbows squeezed, holding a beer in each hand – swish, swish, swish. I can see the musical notes floating around him as he makes his way, doing his job dutifully, albeit with Glee. “Just do it,” I want to say to the sissy. Free us from these seats.

In some places, even today, our existence is a crime.

#ProudBoys

It’s Autumn, and my hometown is on fire. #BlackenAsiaWithLove

It’s Autumn, and my hometown is on fire. [Theme song: When You Gonna Learn, by Jamiroquai]

Jay Kay sang: “Yeah, yeah, have you heard the news today?”

Me: Yeah, yeah, my hometown is on fire.

Protestors in downtown Louisville, my hometown.

My hometown is on fire. In March, SWAT-armed officers served a warrant, and an EMS worker ended up dead. The deceased was Black and poor, and lived in the poor Black part of town. The officers adhered to the codes of the ruling caste. The media covered the death matter-of-factly. The tag line is: “Breonna Taylor was an innocent person in her own home.” So, by extension, all the other victims were not innocent, and therefore deserved to die. Only Jesus’ death warrants defense…and outrage – according to the actions of the folks who James Baldwin called those who believe themselves to be white. So, Breonna, George Floyd, all of them…these were justifiable killings? Yeah, yeah, casualties of the race war where white supremacy has always had the whip.

My hometown is on fire. The mayor put the city on lockdown days ahead of the grand jury’s announcement, not Corona. Trucks block traffic now; windows were boarded up days ago. All to announce that (only) one of the shooters would be indicted, and on the lower end of charges. The officer was initially denounced and fired, and (only) now charged with “wanton, reckless endangerment.” None of the charges relate to Breonna’s death, so that’s exactly what the courts won’t be able to address.

Those who believe themselves t be white will defend their rights against these dead Black bodies

My hometown is on fire. Locals who believe themselves to be white char the memory of the victim, each victim, individually. For Breonna was not perfect, nor was Trayvon, nor George Floyd, nor Sandra Bland, nor countless others … all just human. Not even Amadou Diallo was a perfect-enough-victim for ‘those who believe themselves to be white’. Each family of each victim has had to fight the system individually, as if in a vacuum. Little attention to this incident was paid until the bodies mounted around the country. Everything changed when people of all races marched together, looters rioted and property was lost. Only then did “voters” take notice.

My hometown is on fire. The police have never been held accountable for such deaths. Apparently, the deceased liked bad boys, and was a victim of circumstance. White citizens – the so-called “voters”  – resist seeing the systemic causes to these deaths. Just a few weeks ago, after MONTHS of national outrage and protest, the police reached a 12-million-dollar settlement with Breonna Taylor’s family. Every Kentucky tax payer will pay for our collective neglect. My hometown held it down, made the world say her name.

My hometown is on fire. Say her name. “Say her name,” is now a moniker for another fallen Black body. Where whites see no systemic problem, there can be no systemic solutions. Please, “stop it going on.”

Protests in my hometown, Louisville, KY

Standing under the stars with you. #BlackenAsiaWithLove #

Standing under the stars with you.

This is the moment I’ve waited for for so long.

For so long I’ve longed to be with YOU.

To be with you, to just be here, standing underneath the stars is like heaven and earth in one.

It feels like heaven on earth, so softly touching your skin.

Touching your skin, feeling your breath against my face, there is nobody like you.

I LIKE you… a lot.

This is the moment I’ve waited for for so long.

You and I underneath the stars.

Our lives must be as big as the universe for us to have crossed paths.

I can’t believe that I crossed paths with the YOU.

I want to cross your path every single day from now on.

From now on, I want to be with you.

This is the moment I’ve waited for for so long.

I have waited an eternity to see the stars with you.

To see the stars with you feels like the Earth, the Sun, the moon AND all the planets aligning.

The planets must be aligned to night as good as I’m feeling.

I’m feeling good, with every twinkle our lives become more crisscrossed and intertwined.

Crisscrossed and intertwined so much a mobile phone can’t capture this moment.

Please, be here, now, I beg you.

Dear Black People. #BlackAsianWithLove

Dear Black People:

Remember, whiteness has been largely invisible to MANY folks for MANY generations. While one Corona-filled year can make a dent in it, these changes will hurt and will take time. For example, imagine waking up one day, seeing another Black body drop on the streets at the hands of the police, and you see the American president making mockery of it. Stereotypical “rednecks” are breaking open cans of (cheap) beer to celebrate the deaths and you suddenly realize that this – none of this – would NEVER happen to you because of the color of your skin, because your skin is white. That’s got a be an earth-shattering realization.

Dear Black people, can you remember learning something that totally shattered your world view? That’s what’s happening to the wider, whiter world right now. Like any humans, some embrace change, others retreat in defeat and plot retaliation, for Mr. Backlash is NEVER EVER late.

Dear Black people, take a deep breath. Step back and look at the arch of history. It’s a sheer miracle that you’re even here, that your ancestors survived (I’ll spare you the litany of atrocities). History shows you that these flaring moments are fleeting, that in fact, it gets better. So, keep your head to the sky! Strap up your boots, march for justice, speak up, fight for peace, raise your voices in solidarity with peace-loving people everywhere of every shape, size and color. Do these things at your own pace, in your own way, and in your own space, for every contribution towards world peace is needed. Be the change.

For the Trayvons, Since Blackface is a weapon #BlackenAsiaWithLove

2 April 2012 Hanoi

 

The real Blackface that’s the weapon is the minstrel show,
The Blackface that labeled me out,

Showing people a side of me never seen

But projected onto me,

Such that when so many see my own Blackface,

They see that other

They see that other one.

The one told to them over their kitchen tables.

The one sold to them at the movie show –

Hoop dreams

Baller creams

Holla dolla-dolla bill, y’all.

‘Cause we also know that there are real Black faces

That see those minstrel black faces

Staring them back in the face,

So blinded by the light that they cannot see their own.

 

That’s one side of Trayvon’s story-

Then we all know how precious of a story this really is

That a mother lost her darling son

That a grandmother lost the one who used to babysit for the other gran’kids

That the little cousins are still unclear about where that dear boy is.

 

Blackface means that as soon as your voice starts to drop

As soon as that fuzzy hair starts to sprout all over

As soon as your knock knees start to look bold

You’re no longer a kid

Your childhood is lost

And you must learn to act in ways that would make most sane adults stumble

You learn how not to offend white people

How to speak in a soft voice

Or perish

How to walk slowly, with an unassuming gate

Lest you appear as a threat

With the knowledge that any of these threatened folks can annihilate you

Wipe you from this earth

Where only a generation or two ago

Men hanged like tree-ripened fruit

Aged on a rope in an instant

From kid prankster

To adult menace in a matter of moments

We’ve all seen that photo of one of America’s last lynchings

Not nearly the first

Not nearly the haste, carnage and human waste that made people cease.

 

In 1930, not in anywhere near the deep south

Not from one of our southern willows that sway

But in the mid-west

In Indiana, less than a 150 miles from where Michael Jackson was born

And less than 30 years before he came to be,

So that years later when he sings about hate in our multicultural hearts

Or smashes a window in the video

Enraged with anger

Mad from hypocrisy

The sort that we all know all too well

The gap between the promise and dream.

The reality versus the verses etched all around the capital,

Versus the slave hands that laid those very stones.

The women folk whose very gender made them slaves

And the Black women whose faces made them chattel –

But exploitation of a sexual kind

Yes, we all know too well

What a Blackface can do

How a Blackface can scare you

Even when it’s yours.

So, we now the rage Michael felt,

The hate he seemed to have fought though lost,

Internalized but never giving up.

Yet he was born into a world that hated Blackfaces

Where his was a real threat,

Lest he learn to sing and dance.

The hate is real life minstrelsy.

 

It’s that same song and dance that we as boys learn to perform

And I am tired of dancing

Trying to make nice when people approach me as cold as ice

Smiling and trying to behave

While all their body language tells me that they are scared to death of me

And that they see my Blackface as chilling.

We all know that all the Trayvons in this place

Learn from an age too early to have to teach kids such harsh cruelties of life

That by 13, he could be nearly 6 feet tall and that factor alone endangers his life

Were he to play sports and his body develop.

He would stand no chance of being treated like anything other than a gladiator.

So it’s even more ironic that Trayvon was a scrawny boy they called “Slim”

Seems there’s no real way to win

Though I think that if we as a people can get through this

If we as a nation can have this conversation

The one mothers like Trayvon’s have with their sons

For we all know how people react to Black

 

CONned by CONfederates #BlackenAsiaWithLove

I come from a town named after the French king who supported America’s independence struggle from Great Britain. A large statue of him sits in front of our old courthouse, across from the old town hall. The fleur-de-lis covering his robe was consequently adopted as the symbol of my city, as well as New Orleans and several other municipalities around our nation. I am from a county named after a slaveholding ‘founding father’, the nation’s third president, who was the governor of the Virginia territory that was split then to eventually create my ole Kentucky home.

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Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence at the same time as he was a prominent slave-owner. Our nation fought for nearly two centuries to (openly) recognize the long-term relationship Jefferson had with a teenage slave. Contemporary CONfederates & other zealots fought against recognizing their descendants.

Dixie Highway is one of the largest roads crisscrossing my city, and it’s even the best way to get to Fort Knox, where our nation used to hold its gold. There are other CONfederate activists who are venerated locally in bronze. I never had to “wish I was in Dixie.”I was born there.

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Rosa Parks statue in downtown Montgomery, AL

Although the Sons of CONfederate Veterans resisted, my parents’ alma mater moved a 70-foot-tall CONfederate monument off its campus and out of the city. It wasn’t destroyed, but perhaps, hopefully, better contextualized.

There are umpteen items in my hometown named after President Zachary Taylor who was born into a prominent plantation-owning family. He held slaves during his short-lived term and danced all around the issue of slavery with his CONfederate chums.

Where my grandparents are from in Alabama, the Black high school is named after a CONfederate war general. Right now, the first white house of the CONfederacy sits smack in the middle of the seat of city, county, and state government.

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“First White House of the Confederacy,” Montgomery, AL 2013.

History needs to be re-written to include all the people that made the history.

Mobile-impaired drivers. #BlackenAsiaWithLove

Mobile-impaired drivers.

 

So, try to imagine a man driving a motorbike, a 5-year-old standing on the tiny platform between him and the handlebars, a tall toddler standing behind him on the seat, clinging round his neck, and a woman sitting side-saddle behind the baby. Both adults are bent over scrolling on the phone. In the middle of traffic. I see this every day, but a few days back, I saw a toddler playing peek-a-boo with his dad while he was driving. Interestingly, as he struggled to move the baby’s hands away, the man never shifted his eyes away from his phone.

 

Between the two adults described above, nobody had one good eye on the road. Said plainly, the man was impaired; he drove with one eye, one hand.  Look around, so many are. All I could do was laugh. I didn’t find the spectacle funny. I chuckled to myself, mostly about my own helplessness. I feel like there’s nothing I can do about the risk they face, or the danger they place on others. Their kids are at a severe disadvantage, being precociously exposed to such mindlessness. Many of the motorists around here are similarly disabled. It’s a common affliction.

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What if the baby decides it’s not time to stop peek-a-boo, as babies do, despite the man using his hand to wave him away in frustration? What if they hit a bump – because he wasn’t looking – and either child slipped? Or, what if some driver is speeds towards you in the exact same scenario? Or, what if either dropped their phone? We know that there is a strong impulse to reach for a falling object – even in traffic. Imagine dropping something that holds great value for you. Would instinct kick in? Could it be worse now since heavy social media usage paves neural pathways of impulsive behaviours?

 

 As I move around on the streets, it’s as if most people have only one hand and one eye on the road. It’s nothing to see someone driving a motorcycle holding their phones to their ear, enthralled in conversation, just one hand guiding their vehicle through torrid traffic and very bumpy roads. Potholes and sewage covers, for example, are regularly too deep to tackle with two wheels, so drivers usually swiftly go around. A quick swerve. What’s more, it’s the normal thing to carry one’s entire family along on these adventure rides. Yet, even with two-to-three generations in tow, I’ve seen drivers driving around with their phone in one hand, dialing, texting or scrolling, lifted so they could see it.

 

I can count on one hand the number of moto-taxi drivers I’ve had with any hands-free brace to hold the phone as it displays our route. Some, at least, leave their devices in their pockets, and only check-in at stoplights. (I should start mentioning this in my ratings – not just stars.)

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Devices? Mobile phones sold in this part of the world have two SIM card slots, but it’s also quite common to see people jostling two phones at a time. Perhaps one for private use, and the other professional, and so forth. It suggests a deeply entrenched mobile phone culture here, now.

 

In any public space, on any form of transportation, no matter what’s going on, you can look in any given direction and see most people glued to their phones. Alone, with friends, families, co-workers all are online. Face-to-face is never enough. The most distressing is seeing adults snub kids for their phones – or worse get them hooked early and stuff device in their hands, too. What’s a kid supposed to think if mommy and daddy drive while mobile impaired? Yes, kids, it’s not gone unnoticed that parents are spending more time with their phones than their own kids. Even during a commute. Ah, riding with my folks used to be such good quality time.

 

Smartphones are powerful. So, it comes to no surprise that folks would take to squeezing in every free moment to scroll through social media. If folks aren’t handling it directly, their phones are sitting right there in front of them, the perfect escape for even a moment’s silence, uncertainty, doubt, loneliness, longing, or even curiosity. The mobile provides it all. It has disabled our ability to focus, even when operating heavy machinery.

 

Why not take time during that long drive to pick and jive with friends on the net? What’s a matter with liking a few of my friends’ Facebook posts at the traffic light? It’s not like my kids have anything interesting to say. I can respond to a few work messages by the time I get to where I’m going; who cares if I slow-up traffic. Oh, let me stop right here, in the middle of the road, to finish this text. This has to be done now; I am unable to refuse. While cruising along, why not just let my friends know that I’m just a few minutes away (even if I’ve already shared my live locations and texted them just as I set off on my way).

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Though cognitively we know that we tend to overestimate the things that we can divide our attention between. Vehicles are keenly designed to allow drivers to focus on the road ahead, having a forward-facing display and any needed amenity at one’s fingertips. On two wheels, acceleration and brakes, blinkers and even widely used horns are all there at drivers’ fingertips. Cars compete for the easiest to reach radio, seat, and climate controls. In my last car, I could even do all these things and more from my steering wheel. Yet here, I even seen the biggest, most fully equipped cars being driven around by mobile disabled drivers. These brand-spanking new vehicles come with hands-free technology, but it’s a miss to me as to why there’s no widespread usage of these. Plus, no moto-makers have designed these two-wheelers for one-handed, one-eyed driving.

 

Black In Sanity #BlackenAsiaWithLove

One of the most intriguing aspects of being black today is sanity.

How can an individual living in such desperate times exist alongside insane denial of said existence?

How does one remain sane in an insane world?

One that denies we matter?

 

 

At the start of my new school in the second grade, my new teacher gave me a nickname.

No one can say your name, she explained, so she’d call me by my initials, DK.

And that’s how things remained for years.

I grew to love that teacher and my classmates, many of whom studied with me until graduation 11 years later.

Needless to say, our small class got to know one another really well.

It’s that knowing of others that I draw upon now to stay sane.

See, I know white people.

I’ve grown up in a diverse world, one where all our differences were brought to light and respected.

I learned that my teacher – then a middle-aged, middle-class white woman- had marched alongside Dr. King in all his major marches for his struggle for Civil Rights.

I knew Jewish kids who I learned were seen as outsiders like me.

I learned that Catholics were marginalized in our city, despite being the largest health care providers.

I learned that the poor white kids where, too, regarded as others.

I saw that not all the black kids could escape.

I learned that despite the school’s efforts at integration, life would segregate us then and now.

As soon as the last bell rang, race and class separated us once again.

We all went to our respective neighbourhoods,

And have largely remained in our respective places as adults.

Now, I as an adult, I am ‘diversity’.

 

I accepted that you can never judge a book by its cover.

See, in my state, the rural areas are generally considered backwards- and this is taught to us city kids as a fact.

We even had a biology teacher in high school who told us that she’d taught in the hills of Kentucky and the people were in fact born stupid…damaged by oxygen deprivation.

I listened to what was said about ‘them’

But what I heard was the same shit that had been said about us.

No, it didn’t destroy my ability to trust white people,

But it did give me pause for thought:

How is it that ‘they’ could arrive at respect for my people, but then turn around and diss others who are struggling?

This was all just one more piece of the puzzle I was putting together to help me understand society’s cruelty towards me as a kid.

Why did I grow up in total fear of how strangers would react to me?

It’s like a sixth sense that I honed and developed throughout my life- this is one of the many benefits of being a minority.

But tis sixth sense suggests that we live in a world that is largely unsafe for people like me.

That’s the burden I’d like to ease for those who come after me.

I want to develop the implicit assumption that Black Lives Matter.

Unquestionably, unapologetically and unconditionally.

Blackness is no excuse, nor whiteness.

Racism erodes empathy.

That’s insane.

 

 

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