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No ways tired: Miss Lillie, arrested with Mrs. Parks.

12 September 2021

Visit to the Equal Justice Initiative Museum, From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.

Near the end of the EJI’s newly expanded museum, there is a wall of slightly larger than life-size mugshots of folks arrested alongside Mrs. Rosa Parks in just another local act of civil disobedience. I’ve rarely seen a more earnest collection of everyday people, not unlike the folks around me as I get to know Montgomery today.

Mugshots.

Men in suits, ladies sporting pretty hats in their Sunday best.

Farmers in overalls and working women in neat dresses.

Learned-looking men with glasses, and fancy tiepins.

Young men in sleek fedoras and two or three older men in derbies.

Another man wears a skullcap.

Meaningful women and men of age, of reconstruction age, whom we imagine had by then seen every intimate and public side of Jim and Jane Crows’ wickedness.

They were representin’.

The only thing they seem to have in common is their determination.

(Sigh).

I found myself face-to-face and fixated with

Miss Lillie Bell Robinson.

She sat,

Framed,

With her arms,

Crossed.

Double-crossed.

With her head,

Tilted,

With her expression, tired, but

Also, a particular squint in her eye – or perhaps a gleam – that betrays her obvious fatigue,

As if saying: “No ways tired.”

I moan in tune, and

This somehow keeps my knees from buckling under the weight of it all, since

The preceding exhibits have already taken us along a long timeline where

Every glimpse of justice gets trampled upon –

Again, and again.

I sigh and see why they are tired.

On that day, did Miss Lillie know that much more violence, much more real intensified violence was yet to come?

This was the mid-50’s, and

Could Miss Lillie have imagined that:

Just 5-6 years later,

Freedom Riders from the north would arrive around the corner,

Riding federally desegregated, public coaches, and

The same local sheriffs would stand by, and

Let them get beaten, assaulted, brutally, and

Battered by white-hot mobs –

Only to arrest the so-called outside agitators?

Probably all of you, Miss Lillie, were battered by many of the same hands, and

Abandoned by many of the same actors of local justice.

I estimate Miss Lillie to be my grandparents’ age, and

By that day, they’d already fled and made their way to Kentucky.

I am wondering where Miss Lillie is now – right now?

(I take a deep sigh and realize that I’ve not yet reached the mass incarceration part of the museum, and ultimately just skimmed on by.

Graciously, the final exhibit is a “Recovery room,” a hall of walls of portraits,

which we might also call “mugshots,”

As each face had all, actively, over centuries,

Activated against oppression.

I recognized writers, musicians, poets, painters, politicians, preachers, teachers, activists of all flavors, and

After the weight of the truth shown in each timeframe, this left me feeling full of joy.

And, I moaned along with the tunes, there, too.

That day,

She’d had had enough, and

Though reluctant before,

Somehow now,

Miss Lillie could no longer stand by, and

Just wait for justice, and

Just go on about her own merry way, and

Pretend like this is ok, and

Adjust to the insanity of segregation, and

The very look on her face said this is “why we can’t wait.”

Her face calm, but

Twisted.

The mug shot ID, hanging around her neck like a shackle: #7010.

Business as usual, and for sure somebody’s gettin’ paid.

So, she not knowing.

She, not knowing if this all will work.

If getting arrested today mattered.

If any of this is worth it.

If this time change is coming,

having nothing left but Faith…

in herself, in others, and

Somehow faith in her nation… to do the right thing,

Despite this day, and

In spite of the many apparent setbacks, and

A million everyday,

Tiny little cuts.

We rise.

That day, Miss Lillie rose to the occasion.

She and all these others stepped up so we could step out, and

Step in here now,

Free to learn about each step along our legacy of peace.

I’m now in awe of Miss Lillie, and

Take a step back and

Smile at her, and

Take in the glory of this sensation.

Hats off to you, Miss Lillie.

Sculpture at EJI’s Lynching Memorial

Days to mark on our calendar!

It is common practice to have a day in the year to commemorate something.  In fact, we have months that seemed to be themed with specific events.  I look at the diary at the days/months which are full of causes, some incredibly important, others commemorating and then there are those more trivial.  Days in a year to make a mark to remind us of things.  An anniversary of events that brings something back to a collective consciousness.  Once the day/month is over, we busily prepare for the next event, month and somehow between the months and days, I cannot help but wonder; what is left after the day/month? 

When International Women’s Day was originally established, at the beginning of the 20th century, socialism was a driving political movement and women’s suffrage was one of the main social issues; since then other issues have been added whilst the main issue of equality remains on the cards.  Has women’s movement advanced through the commemoration of International Women’s Day?  Debatable if it had an impact.  Originally the day was a call for strikes and the mobilisation of women workers. Today it is a day in the calendar that allows politicians to utter platitudes about how important the day is, and of course how much we respect and love women these days!  It is hardly a representation of what it was or set out to be.  Like so many, numerous other events are marked on our calendar, but wehave lost sight of what they were originally set out to be. 

Consider the importance of a day to commemorate the Nazi Holocaust.  Never again!  The promise that such a mass crime should never happen; the recognition that genocide has no place in our respective societies.  Since that genocide, numerous others have taken place, not to mention the mass murder, violent relocations, and the massacres and ethnic cleanings that have happened since.  Somehow the “never again”, to people in Biafra, East Timor, Rwanda, Darfur, former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and many other places simply sounds ironic!  We commemorate the day, but we do not honour the spirit of that day. 

In this mixture of days and months we also have days for mothers, fathers, lovers, friends, hugs, happiness, and many other national and international events.  To commemorate or to offer a moment of reflection.  Somehow the reflection is lost and for some of these days, millions of people are required to purchase something to demonstrate that they care or worst still, to make something!  How many mothers worldwide have had to admire badly made pottery or badly drawn cards from kids who wanted to say “I love you” on one specific day.  Leaves me to wonder what they would want to say on all other days! 

So, is it better to forget them? Get rid of these days and if anyone suggests the creation of another, we feed them to crocodiles?  It would have been easy from one point to end them all.  Social issues are never easily resolved so we can recognise that a day or a month does not resolve them!  It raises awareness but it’s not the solution.  In the old days when the Olympics started there was a call for truce.  They did not allow for the games to take place whilst a war was happening.  Tokenism? Perhaps, but also the recognition that for events to have any credibility they need to go beyond words; they must have actions associated with them.  What if those actions go further than the day/month of the commemoration?  Imagine if we respect and honour women, not only on IWD but every day, imagine if we treat people with the respect, they deserve beyond BHM, LGBTQ+ months?  Maybe it is difficult but if we recognise it to be right, we ought to try.  We know that the Holocaust was a bad thing so lets not just remember it…lets avoid it from happening …Never again! 

Calling All Dads: Girls Girls Girls wanted. #SpokenWord

Calling all dads.

Reward for the first hundred daughters!

Calling all dads, Magic City Club is recruiting!  

Magic city is the most elite strip joint in the world,

Any dad should be proud to have his daughter work for us!

We value our customers and want to give YOU the chance to shape Magic City Club’s future.

So we’re recruiting.

PLEASE send your daughters in right away.

We need your girls, girls, girls.

The most beautiful daughters in the world, we ask all dads to send them now.

You’re our valued-customers so you know MCC is about quality!

Send them in to Magic City Club, by express, in a rush, by plane or by bus!

Hurry, hurry, hurry we need girls – quick – these polls aren’t going to oil them selves. 

We don’t care how you get these girls here we need strippers now!

Now we know this is a difficult task,

So we are offering a reward for the first hundred daughters!

The first hundred days to send in their daughters will get a lifetime ticket! 

A lifetime supply of girls swinging on poles, every dad’s dream. 

So send in your daughters, and the first hundred new donors receive a lifetime supply of free entry to any of our prestigious establishments around the world for you and a party of 10 men. 

Imagine how your career will explore when you bring your colleagues on an annual, all-expense-paid trip to Magic city, and enjoy some other men’s daughters swinging from the polls. Swish. Slide. Spin, Twirl. And flap, flat on the ground, she’s in a split!

Dads, you will not be missed on any neighbor’s Christmas list when you invite the dads from your hood right on down to Magic City. 

Don’t miss Father’s Day. Each year, Luxury Life Liquors sponsors our special Father’s Day event and fills pool on stage with whiskey. Watch these girls swim like mermaids. After the show, you know MC doesn’t waste good liquor.

Magic City.

It’s magic.

And somebody’s daughter has got to do it, has got to swing from these polls!

 Act now, send in yours! Send in your daughters right away. 

As our valued customer, you know Magic City Club has a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy for the backrooms, so: Employer shall be not liable for sexual harassment, STD’s, or in any way held responsible for unwanted pregnancies.

We provide the costumes; daughters must provide their own contraception.

Yours truly,

The management

*P.S. Magic City Club is not affiliated with that MC strip joint all the rappers rap about.

At The Mouth of ‘Bloody Sunday’ #Travel #Prose #History

At the Mouth of Bloody Sunday

I know the one thing we did right, was the day we started to fight. Keep your eyes on the prize…hold on. Hold on.

Bloody Sunday in Selma only highlighted the bloody Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays that Black people in America have faced from the first time we laid eyes on these shores. It took people to gather and protest to change. In December ’64, the good Rev. Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this movement. That spring in Selma, people marched across a bridge in order to highlight the normal voter suppression practices still happening throughout the south – and still in 2021. 

“If you can’t vote, you ain’t free. If you ain’t free, well then you a slave.” –Intro interview to Eyes on the Prize part 6/8.

According to the National Park Service, who oversees the important civic monument now:

“On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, some 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Route 80. They got only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge six blocks away, where state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas and drove them back into Selma.” 

From my 7th grade social studies class circa ‘87, I would also add: The good white citizens of Selma gathered at the mouth of the bridge for the spectacle, to witness or probably participate in the oppression. We see them in the footage, films, pictures and media coverage of the events, and we know many are likely still alive. Black-n-white news footage of the days leading to Bloody Sunday show the sheriff and his angry henchmen prodding people with their clubs, plenty of ‘regular’ people watching in joy.

The people prodded? Well-dressed and behaved Black citizens of Selma and activists who’d come to support them. According to the footage, white citizens came out in droves for what they knew would be a bloody suppression of simple voting rights. As spectators, their presence made the massacre spectacular.

Selfie @ the Mouth of the Bridge, Sept ’21

I’ve visited the National Voter Rights Museum and Institute at the mouth of the bridge, and there they have an actual jar of jellybeans used to test Black people coming to sign up to vote at the local government office. Yes, sitting behind that booth was a white man who demanded that a black person – any citizen of the darker complexion – accurately guess the number of jellybeans in a jar in order to be allowed – in order for him to allow them – to register to vote. I feel like I have to repeat that, or say it in different ways because it is so unbelievable.

This September, I visited a museum at the edge of the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, on the way to Montgomery, the state capital. This historical museum marks local efforts to contest voter restriction practices. These practices were heinous in tone and texture, yet creative and cringe-worthy in nurture and nature. For example, consider the ingenious of these jellybean-counting white men in DC who created the separate-n-unequal space to inspire a variety of voter suppression taxes, tests and clauses throughout the south. It is these sorts of mad men who make decisions that impact the entire world as we have come to know and understand it now. 

Yes, it is these sorts of men who send politicians to the state houses, and sent/send senators to Washington DC, to cajole politicians of every hue to compromise on their values. Now, we also know they send mobs to storm the capitol on the very day all the legislators gather to confirm the election results.

I know the one thing we did right, was the day we started to fight. Keep your eyes on the prize…hold on. Hold on.

The jar of jellybeans at the National Voter Rights Museum and Institute, Selma, Al. Sept ’21

Imagine yourself standing there in a museum, looking at a shelf, and there is a jar of jellybeans. There’s nothing spectacular about the jar, nor its contents. For any of us have seen something like this in virtually any kitchen, or supermarket. My granny grew, harvested and canned vegetables, so growing up I got to handle many mason jars first hand. 

In fact, I love jellybeans. I used to visit the gourmet jellybeans shop in the mall after school when I was a kid. You could pick out any flavour that you liked, and I always went for blueberry, and cherry. I loved the contrast between the royal blue and Corvette red. It is a childhood fascination that my dentists still adore me for to this day. Naturally, these gourmet jellybeans were a little more expensive than the ones you get in the supermarkets, but I liked to save my money and treat myself sometimes. Plus, it felt very special being able to pick out the ones you like, and not have to discard the disgusting ones – who ever thought licorice or cola belonged on a jelly bean!?! 

As a candy, jellybeans are so visually enticing. As you enter the shop, the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with all sorts of bright neon colors. Every shade of the rainbow grabs your eyes, calls to you. Between stacks of plastic bags and scoops, you are awed by the massive jars of each individual jellybean color ready for you to pick-and-mix. There are also tables with stacks of both empty and pre-filled jars. There are jars of all sizes filled with colorful patterns of jellybeans with matching ribbons tied in bows around the lids. Of course, the entire shop smells like fruit, all kinds of fruits, sweet, succulent fruits that you cannot even imagine. You are the customer, you are king. By virtue of entering the fancy shop, this is your kingdom.

Now take all of that and put it in a jar. To get to this jar, you have to enter an official government building in the town center. Next to the entrance stands an armed, uniformed white man who gives you a disgruntled look as you enter, signaling that he’s not there for your safety but aggravation. Now, as you approach, you see the jar, sitting on a counter, and behind it sits another white man. Try to imagine this white man, probably with a gun next to him or somewhere nearby, with nothing better to do than to threaten your life. Because the town is so small, he knows your last name, and may know of your family. 

Since this is a small town, he knows your employer, he knows where you live as you’ve just written this down. He may even know your family, as the local history is so insidious, his family may have even owned or overseen yours at one time. Or, at that very moment, you or a family member may work for him or his kin. Your kids might play together. You may have played with him as a kid when, for example, your mother was his nanny (read-and-said-in-the-south: Mammy). Yet now, here in a free democracy, it is his job to register citizens to vote. 

It is his prerogative, the birthright of this individual, plain (white) man on the other side of the glass to demand that you count the number of jellybeans in the goddamn jar. It is a privilege that no one anywhere near here has ever questioned. So, with a smile, he plops a big red “DENIED” stamp on your registration form. Of course yo’cain’t! A “killing rage” surges. Be glad you don’t have a gun with you.

My First Foreign Friend #ShortStory #BlackAsiaWithLove

I love school.

In the third grade, we had a foreign student named Graham. His parents had come over to our hometown from England with a job, and his family was to stay in our town for a year or two.

Other than Graham’s accent, at first he didn’t in anyway appear, or feel different.

The only time that Graham’s difference mattered , or that I knew Graham’s difference mattered, was on the spelling test. We had moved far away from three letter words, to larger words and sentences, and by fourth grade we were writing our own books.

But in the third grade, there was Graham on our first spelling test, and our teacher drilling words like color.

The teacher made it fun by using word association to aid in memory. Then, he paused to explain that Graham would be excused if he misspelled certain words because where he’s from, they spelt (spelled) things differently. Spell “color” differently, we all wondered? 

Our teacher explained that there are many words where they add the letter U, that are pronounced in the same way. Anyway we have different accents in our own country. Heck, we had different ways of saying the word “colour” in our own city. Where does the extra-U go? Then of course, the teacher spelled out the word. He could not write it on the chalkboard because we were sitting in a circle on the area rug, on the library side of the classroom. It is then that I also realized that I had a visual memory, even visualizing words audible words, both the letters and images representing the meaning. I wanted to know why people in England spelled things differently than in America. Despite Graham’s interesting accent, and easy nature which got him along fine with everyone, he was going to have to answer some questions.

Though our teacher did not write the letters, in hearing them I could see them in my mind moving around. I started imagining how moving the different letters shifted – or did not shift – differences in sound, across distances, borders, and cultures. I started imagining how the sounds moved with the people. Irish? Scottish? People in our city claimed these origins, and they talk funny on TV. Britain has many accents, our teacher explained. “I’m English,” blurted Graham. 

We didn’t know much, but we knew that except for our Jewish classmates, everyone in that room had a last name from the British Isles, which we took a few moments to discuss. Most our last names were English, like my maternal side. A few kids had heard family tales of Scottish or Irish backgrounds, German, too. One girl had relatives in Ireland. And wherever the McConnell’s are from, please come get Mitch. Hurry up! 

How did we Blacks get our Anglicized names? Ask Kunta Kinte! And how did this shape Black thought/conscience, or the way we talk? I wanted to know MORE. I thought Jewish people were lucky: At least they knew who they were, and they were spoken of with respect. Since my dad is Nigerian, (and my name identifiably African) I had a slight glimpse of this. I knew I had a history, tied to people and places beyond the plantation, and outside of any textbook I’ve ever had (until now where I get to pick the texts and select the books).

My family is full of migrants, both geographically and socially, so homelife was riddled with a variety of accents. Despite migrating north, my grandparents’ generation carried their melodic Alabama accents with them their whole lives. Their kids exceeded them in education, further distancing our kin from cotton farming, both in tone and texture. This meant that my generation was the first raised by city-folk, and all the more distant from our roots since we came of age in the early days of Hip-Hop. At home, there were so many different kinds of sounds, music, talk and accents. Fascinating we can understand done another.

Our teacher also told us that Americans also used some of the same words differently. Now, I’ve lived here in the UK for a decade and I can’t be bothered to call my own car’s trunk a boot. Toilet or loo? Everybody here gets it. Unfortunately, Graham explained that he knew the British term for what we call ‘eraser’, which the teacher couldn’t gloss over because we each had one stashed in our desks, and he knew we’d have the giggles each time the word was mentioned.

I was still struck by the fact that in spite of all these differences and changes, meanings of words could shift or be retained, both in written and spoken forms. I wanted to know more about these words – which words had an extra U – and where had the British got their languages and accents. For me, Graham represented the right to know and experience different people, that this was what was meant by different cultures coming together.

“Here I am just drownin’ in the rain/With a ticket for a runaway train…” – Soul Asylum, 1992, senior year.

In retrospect it’s weird that Graham’s my first foreign friend. Both my father and godmother immigrated to America – initially to attend my hometown university. They’d come from Nigeria and China, respectively, and I’d always assumed that I’d eventually visit both places, which I have. Perhaps this particular friendship sticks with me because Graham’s the first foreign kid I got to know. 

Through knowing Graham, I could for the first time imagine myself, in my own shoes, living in another part of the world, not as a young adult like my folks, but in my 8-year-old body. What interested me more was that I could also see Graham was not invested in the macho culture into which we were slowly being indoctrinated (bludgeoned). For example, Graham had no interest in basketball, which is big as sh*t in Kentucky. Nor did I. “Soccer is more popular over there,” our teacher explained, deflecting from Graham’s oddness. “But they call it football.” Who cares! I’d also seen Graham sit with his legs crossed, which was fully emasculating as far as I knew back then. The teacher defended him, saying that this also was different where Graham came from. I definitely knew I wanted to go there, and sit anyway I wanted to sit.

Kisses from Granny Don’t Count! #BlackenAsiaWithLove #ShortStory

In America, and most certainly in the land of Dixie and cotillions, at the end of junior high school year we have a tradition of getting our senior class rings. By “getting,” I mean individually buying a ring from the same one or two companies in our city who cash in on this ritual annually. We knew that many of us had to foot the bill with our own after-school jobs, while others’ parents could virtually write a blank check! (Hopefully, at least, or perhaps most assuredly, somebody in the school system gets a kickback from all this cash flow.) 

While class rings appeared personalized, the rings – and the ritual – were effectively mass manufactured, complete with standardized shapes and design features: school’s name and mascot – in our case a bear – class year (1993!), and maybe our initials inscribed inside. Oh, and a heteronormative adolescent sexualized ritual to which I shall return shortly. 

Rings are generally presented at a school ceremony. Until graduation, class rings are worn facing the wearer as motivation towards the ultimate achievement, after which it is worn outward as a badge of pride and honor. A graduating class could all agree to the same design – usually the school colors – which I believe the majority of my class did. While I prefer the look of silver against my dark skin, our school colors were royal blue and gold, so classes at our school often got blue sapphire set in the lowest Karat gold available that didn’t look cheap. For such a notoriously liberal school (i.e., gender and racially/geographically* integrated by design), this was one of the few explicit acts of conformity.

‘You Wear it Well’ – DeBarge, 1985

Class Ring: Louisville Central High School, ’66

The next part of the tradition is having 100 different people turn the ring, as sort of an acknowledgement of becoming a senior. The first 99 turn it in one direction, while the final person reverses the order. This clockwise/counter-clockwise turn seals the deal. Yet get this, you’re supposed to kiss the hundredth person who turns the ring. You say the word “kiss” in front of most any group of adolescents and they’ll giggle. We knew what kind of kiss was meant. FRENCH like fries! Somehow becoming a senior in high school had been coopted by this hetero-ritual, a hetero-rite of passage (het-or-no-rites!).

I am troubled that this academic milestone is linked to gender. Worse, the ritual is predictably a performance act that fixes gender to normative sexual roles; yes, heteropatriarchy. Worse still, this binary gender performance is discrete, couched in achieving a basic education.

The ring dealer comes to school and makes a sales pitch to the class, and sets up a booth in the lobby after school. In his pitch, he promises a ‘free’ glossy little form to collect all the signatures. It was a bait and switch. These dealers sold us the rings but gave us the forms, the evidence we needed to prove we’d passed another stage towards adulthood. And what were we supposed to do with the blank glossy forms? Come back to school and boast? 

The first 50 or so signatures were just us. Our own schoolmates turning each other’s rings, filling in each other’s forms on the very day the rings arrived. Family filled in a lot, too. I distinctly remember a teacher or two requesting to be excluded from the tradition, or take part in the ring ritual of becoming a senior, else we whittle their fingers away. 

We all know everybody only wanted to see who signed the final line – a prompt to incite heteronormalizing speech-acts. Well, a few folks weren’t single and already had that 100th spot reserved and filled by sundown. Needless to say, kisses from granny don’t count!  I’m pretty sure this wasn’t written on the dealer’s well-crafted sheet. Our market dominated, heteronormative introduction to adulthood for all to see.

I’d attended the same school since second grade so I’d seen people celebrate this class ring ritual for years, and even attended several graduations. I’d watched the “Senior run” year after year – a day at the end of school, when the graduating class runs through all the halls, cheering, banging on lockers as all the kids in all the classes rush out to line the hallways and egg them on. I loved school, adored our school, adored my classmates, and even looked forward to our turn, though parting so bittersweet. 

At 16, I was only starting to be able to fully disidentify with the barrage of heterosexualized norms that engulfed me. I had to disentangle heterosexuality from virtually every facet of life – even finishing high school, a normal step we’re all expected to take. It’s as if to gain access to what bell hooks calls ‘the good life’ one had to signify alignment with compulsory heterosexuality.

I knew that I could not even turn my ring 100 times without kissing a girl. No way I’d risk putting a guy’s name at the end of that glossy list – someone I’d actually dreamt of French-kissing. Not like I knew any guy who’d be game. Damn. This was a lot of pressure. This junior prom was forcing me to make all kinds of adult decisions.

“The more I get of you, the stranger it feels…”

I was 16, and wasn’t out yet. Unlike at twelve when these feelings first bubbled over, by 16 I was on the cusp of self-acceptance, and preparing to face this possibility that I was gay. Perhaps it was pure timing. By the 11thgrade I knew for sure I’d be leaving home months after graduation, which was suddenly within reach. I could chart my own homo path. But still, at that age, I had doubts. I tried seriously dating a young woman as my last-ditch effort to see if I was straight or (at least) bisexual. 

Kaye wasn’t a classmate, which wouldn’t have worked anyway because in retrospect all my classmates already knew, and had decided to accept me without question. Kaye attended an all-girls’ school, so we’d met through an extracurricular, Black youth empowerment program. Kaye was clearly college bound. She had her own dreams and ambitions, and pursued them – an ideal mate for me. She was the most attractive woman I knew, both inside and out, both to me and others. Yes, THAT sister who is not invulnerable, but has it all together. If she didn’t do, then dammit I was gay!

Fortunately, my girl was smart. And by smart, I mean that she was intelligent, real smart as in NOT clueless at all. We agreed to a kiss on the cheek, and she’d sign the last line on my glossy form. And by ‘agreed to’, I mean that this is what Kaye put on the table as her firm and final offer. She also had the good sense to let me turn her ring, too, but she reserved the 100th signature for someone special. I respected that. This clarified our plutonic status – no Facebook updates needed: I’m gay.

“Gotta find out what I meant to you…You were sweet as cheery pie/ Wild as Friday night”

Black History Month: A Final Thought

As we come to the end of Black History Month it is important to shine a light on the Black Lives Matters Movement and highlight the historical significance to the problematic discourse of racialisation.

Black history month is an opportunity for people from the various pockets of the Black community to learn about our own history and educate those who are not from the Black community, in order to decolonise our institutions and our society. As Black people we have our own history formed by systemic oppressions and great triumphs. While it is easy (and lazy) for institutions to use terms such as BAME and People of Colour (POC) these problematic uses of language oppress blackness. We are not a monolith of coloured people. Different racialised groups have and will experience, and uphold difference, harms and achievements within society. Furthermore, it would be naïve to ignore the narrative of anti-blackness that people from racialised groups uphold. Therefore, it is important for us and people that look like us, to continue to have the space to talk about our history and our experiences.

For many people in the UK and indeed around the world BLM became a mainstream topic for discussion and debate following the murder of George Floyd. While the term BLACK LIVES MATTER is provocative and creates a need for debate, it signifies the historical ideology that black lives haven’t mattered in historical and in many ways, contemporary terms.

While it is easy to fall into the trap of describing the Black experience as an experience of victimhood, Black history months allows us to look deep at all our history and understand why and where we are as a society.

The UK is one of the most diverse places in the world, yet we continue to fall prey to the Eurocentric ideology of history. And while it is important to always remember our history, the negativity of only understanding black history from the perspective of enslavement needs to be questioned. Furthermore, the history of enslavement is not just about the history of Black people, we need to acknowledge that this was the history of the most affluent within our society. Of course, to glaze over the triangle trade is problematic as it allows us to understand how and why our institutions are problematic, but it is redundant to only look at Black history from a place of oppression. There are many great Black historical figures that have contributed to the rich history of Britain, we should be introducing our youth to John Edmonstone, Stuart Hall, Mary Prince and Olive Morris (to name a few). We should also be celebrating prominent Black figures that still grace this earth to encourage the youth of today to embrace positive Black role models.

Black history for us, is not just about the 1st-31st of October. We are all here because of history we need to start integrating all our history into our institutions, to empower, educate and to essentially make sense of our society.   

I Wish We Had Twitter Back in the Day. #BlackenAsiaWithLove

I wish we had Twitter back in the day. When I was a kid, I would sometimes spend playtime alone in my room, singing to the radio. Between the pop station and WLOU – the Black station which cut off around five or six in the evening – I could’ve tweeted the mix-tapes I made. I’d take momma or my grandparents’ radio alarm-clock, and put it face-to-face with my tape recorder to record songs from the radio. I even got pretty good at cutting the recording off before the radio DJ started talking over the end of the song. That’s why the Black station was better for recording because they always played the adlibbed outro/coda, the sweetest part of the song where the story and storyteller reached a resolution. The songs were always resolved, despite the dilemma at the start, especially love songs – either falling in or out of love. I had to play the record to listen to the full song.

Even though no singer sang about the love I knew I had inside of me, I could identify with others feelings – human feelings. My aunt Shirley still laments about the times we’d be riding in her car, listening to the radio, and “your song would come on.” She says I loved Dionne Warwick’s I’ll Never Love This Way Again, such adult themes, too, she adds. Or: “Reunited… and it feels so good.” Shirley says I sang as if this were my love affair. “And you was still small’nough to stand up in the back seat of the car.” Billboard ranks that Peaches and Herb’s jam as fifth out of the hundred hottest songs of ’79 – amid all the Disco greats I loved. I must have been four. Shirley often tells me about my precocious empathy as a child. I kept a diary from an early age, but by the time I was a teen, I was ready to share with the world the things I knew needed to change.

I’d tweet about all the singers and songs that meant so much to me – how their lyrics and artistry changed me. I’d make videos of me practicing combinations we’d learned in dance class, or choreographing my own music videos. “Video killed the radio star,” had no good dance moves yet was the very first video to play on MTV when the channel debuted in ’81. That that format quickly came to dominate how music was consumed and promoted. Otherwise, I was just alone in my artistic world, thinking I was the only boy who danced like a girl. 

Dance, I said!

At home, it wasn’t ever taboo to talk about Jim Crow. Prince and Michael Jackson had to dress a bit femme to disarm the wider/whiter masses; as did Jackie Wilson back in the day. I could see Motown was a white-washed version of the hymns my grandaddy sang from his book at home. This is what these artists did to crossover to the pop ‘genre’ and earn consequent pop radio circulation, pop sales, pop accolades and pop cash! Even now, Beyonce still gets over-nominated only in the Black categories.  People tweet about that sort of stuff now, but I didn’t even have those words at that age; still I sensed something was off about cultural appropriation and its economic consequences for all involved. I also knew that I was doing was taboo. Back in the day, I’d suppress any femme in me in order to crossover. I’d have tweeted about that.

Tweeting ole dirty work. 

I wish we had Twitter back in the day. Imagine Nat Turner proselytizing and organizing through Black Twitter. They’d still have had to use coded language, just like they used Negro Spirituals to encode messages of freedom: ‘Follow the drinking gourde’ would probably still fool folks now, just as much as today a murderous police officer’s defense attorney can claim that bodycam shows George Floyd saying, “I ate too many drugs,” when he actually said “I ain’t do no drugs.” Who eats drugs? Not in any Black English I know, and thanks to Black twitter, there’s an ivy-league sociolinguist who’s published a research paper on this very matter while we watch the overseer’s trial like we used to watch Video Soul. Ole uncle Nat would’ve gotten pretty far on his rebellion had he had Twitter back in the day.  Tweet tweet, MF! We’ve got Twitter today, so: “Let’s get in-formation.”

The First Day of Freedom -#SpOkenWoRd #BlackenAsiaWithLove

What must September 30th have felt like?

On a season seven episode of historian Prof. Skip Gates’ public broadcast show, Finding Your Roots, Queen Latifah read aloud the document that freed her first recorded ancestor: 

“Being conscious of the injustice and impropriety of holding my fellow creature in state of slavery, I do hereby emancipate and set free one Negro woman named Jug, who is about 28 years old, to be immediate free after this day, October 1st, 1792. -Mary Old” (slave-owner).

“No way,” Latifah sighs, and repeats this twice after she recites the words “set free.”

“OMG, I’m tingling right now,” she whispers.

‘The Queen L-A-T-I-F-A-H in command’ spent her entire rap career rapping about freedom.

And: U-N-I-T-Y!

Now she asks: “What must that have been like…to know that you are free?”

Indeed, what did it feel like to hold your own emancipation piece of paper for the first time?

Or, to receive this piece of paper in your (embondaged) hands? 

Or, pen a document liberating another who you believe to be a fellow human being?

What must September 30th have felt like for this slave…

The day before one’s own manumission, the eve of one’s freedom? 

What ever did Ms. Jug do?

How can I…

How can I claim any linkages to, or even feign knowing anything about –

Let alone understand – anyone who’s lived in bondage?

However, I can see that

We’re all disconnected from each other today, without seeking to know all our own pasts.

Or, consider:

The 1870 Federal census was the first time Africans in America were identified by name, Meaning: 

Most of us can never know our direct lineage …no paper trail back to Africa. 

So, what must it feel like to find the first record of your ancestors – from the first census – 

Only to discover a record of your earliest ancestor’s birthplace: Africa!?!

Though rare, it’s written before you that they’d survived capture and permanent separation, 

The drudgery of trans-Atlantic transport, and 

life-till-death of cruel and brutal servitude, and

Somehow, miraculously, here you are.

“The dream and the hope of the slave.”

Slavery shattered Black families.

This was designed to cut us off at the roots, stunt our growth – explicit daily degradation:

You’z just a slave! No more no less.

For whites hearing this, it may evoke images of their ancestors who committed such acts. How exactly did they become capable of such every day cruelty…and live with it?

All must understand our roots in order to grow.

For slave descendants, we see survivors of a tremendously horrible system. 

This includes both white and Black people.

Those who perpetrated, witnessed, resisted or fell victim to slavery’s atrocities. 

We’re all descended from ‘slavery survivors’ too – our shared culture its remnants. 

Of the myriad of emotions one feels in learning such facts, one is certainly pride.

Another is compassion.

We survived. And we now know better.

We rise. 

We rise.

We rise.

[sigh]

Suggesting that we forget about slavery,

Or saying “Oh, but slavery was so long ago,” 

Demands that we ignore our own people’s resilience, and will to live.

It’s akin to encouraging mass suicide. 

For, to forget is to sever your own roots.

“Blood on the leaves, and blood at the root.”

And like any tree without roots, we’d wither and die, be crushed under our own weight.

Or, get chopped up and made useful.

Or, just left “for the sun to rot, for the tree to drop.”

Erasing history, turning away because of its discomfort, is a cult of death.

It moralizes its interest in decay.

To remember is to live, and celebrate life.

We must reckon with how our lives got here, to this day, to this very point.

Therefore, to learn is to know and continue to grow, for 

A tree that’s not busy growing is busy dying.

The quest for roots is incredibly, powerfully, life-giving.

Find yours.

Call their names.

Knowledge further fertilizes freedom.

Know better. Do better.

Rise, like a breath of fresh air.

Images from pbs.org

The Peace of ‘the Lamb with the Lion’ (Oh say, can you see?). Happy not Leap Day #BlackenAsiaWithLove

The peace of the Lamb with the Lion (Oh say, can you see?)

There is no peace between the lamb and the lion.

The lion will always feel hunger, and feast, nurture cubs, and prosper on lamb.

This becomes the lion’s nature.

The lion may grow greedy on the ease of his feed.

Wallowing on his back in the sun, him belly full o’ greed.

For the lion, none of this is the slaughter of the lambs.

🎵Them belly full but we HUNgry.

Black people were born into the American caste system hangry

White people, on the flip side, were granted freedom to feed themselves, and

Gain capital if they agreed to cooperate – actively or passively -with the system of hate.

Many men did, many were coerced with the promises and benefits and power of whiteness.

Hunger and anger easily fester into animality, hell and hate – none of which leads to liberation. If we were determined to be free, merely mastering the masters’ tools could not be our fate. We have had to craft a culture of resistance… based on love. This is the antithesis of the Greed, Anger and Stupidity that fuels hate. In our resistance, we have forged the ‘strength to love’ ourselves, in spite of the ‘birth of the nation’. Humanists of all hues always find a way.

Early that winter after Emmett Till was executed and his Mississippi killers acquitted, the radical Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to continue to go along with riding Jim Crow in Alabama, and in so doing gave Dr. King his final cue. Down one summer from up north, apparently young Till had made some form of pass at a white woman in a shop in town. He crossed Jim Crow, for which he had to be promptly sacrificed. 

Apparently, Mamie Till had sent out a powerful signal that summer by leaving the casket open for all to view her son’s dehumanized corpse – an honor killing, quite scripted and business as usual by that point in our nation’s still hopeful nascent democracy. Ms. Till resisted. She’d crossed a line by balling her fist, then pointing her accusing finger squarely at Jim Crow – that’s who’d snatched, brutally tortured, mutilated and murdered her boy. The lions had fed. “Dar he,” Till’s uncle, Moses Wright, said standing in court, pointing to the men who’d dragged the boy from his house, never to be seen alive again. They could no longer cooperate with a corrupt and deadly system.

Reading Rosa Parks’ cue, King rallied his congregation, and 

Agitated the local community, and

Called for a boycott, 

Not a storming of the state capital, which still sits just a stone’s throw from his church.

Teach-ins, sit-ins, rallies and marches followed.

They called them rioters-n-things just they do today.

Roaring, shouting, chanting, singing: We! Shall! Overcome (period).

They were met with guns and bayonets on bridges,

At schools, white parents mobbed Black children trying to make their way.

Now, Miss Betsy pays for her kids to go to private schools and ignores the public ones.

We were singing the blues for Mister Charlie.

This blues train was a just stop along long revolutionary tracks that have deep underground roots.

We’re talking ‘bout a revolution!

Bayard Rustin taught Martin Luther King the power and techniques of non-violent civil resistance. By 1959, MLK had assumed the rhetoric and role of Fredrick Douglas, and began

fellowshipping with Dalits while studying how Gandhi-ji had spearheaded a non-violent imperial defeat, which decolonized, yet ultimately, further splintered the sub-continent. Such solidarity still stands between oppressed and progressive peoples everywhere.

King’s call to conscience and action grew…the lambs bellowed out for solidarity.

King’s movement joined hands with people of all races, religions, all faiths, and 

They marched arm-n-arm with the humanists among sinners, senators, students and sanitary workers, and 

Gave the president the language of emancipation, and

Then Dr. King advocated against war,

Just as poor and Black soldiers were being disproportionately deployed to die on the front line.

They say that’s what got him shot-n-killed to death…

A casualty among many.

There are people around the world today singing “

GAS fuels hate!

This is why we can’t wait!

Progressives peacefully demonstrate to affirm our shared belief in humanism,

In spite our CONstitution’s original ill-fate.

Love is the true heart of patriotism.

Peace is what our actions illustrate.

So, get up and sing your blues today because #BLM:

🎵Get up! Stand-up!/Stand-up for your rights!/Get up! stand up!/Don’t give up the fight! [repeat infinitely]

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