Who taught you this?
Where’d you learn these bad habits?
I sent you into the world
To learn, to love, to enlighten
And you return, unlike when you left
You reek of desperation
You carry a stench of worthlessness
Who did this to you?
Who privy’d you to nothingness?
How’d you manage to forget you were royalty? You’re rotten.
Because we cannot gain rights as a gender, until we can first secure rights as a race…
Something interesting happened on Twitter a few nights ago when EBONY editor Jamilah Lemieux started the hash tag #BlackPowerIsForBlackmen, which quickly became a trending topic. After reading the tweets, observing the people who chose to participate, seeing the next day reactions, I’m still left un-amused. And slightly baffled. If Black Power is for black men, does this mean it is not for black women? I watched a documentary a while back on YouTube, and one of the women in the documentary stated that feminism was “the white woman’s thing” and a black woman’s first priority should be fighting racism. She said black women joining the feminist movement during the 70’s led to the dismantling of the civil rights/black power movement. I agree and disagree. A woman reserves the right to fight for her rights, and the rights of her sisthrens. But we must not forget that we cannot gain rights as a gender, until we can first secure rights as a race. A black woman cannot be seen as an equal to her white contemporaries, until her first battle with equality has been won.
No doubt sexism needs to be tackled, but as black women how can we skip that first part? That black part. A white woman can march and rally, fight and riot, start petitions and write letters to congress about women rights, because seriously… What are her other barriers? A white woman’s only barrier is her crotch. Let’s be real here. Racism, racial equality, is a much bigger cause than sexism. They are both equally crucial, but within the confines of the black community, our first battle is not our gender, it is our race. We cannot invalidate black power. It is not a man thing. It is an us thing. As black woman, our blackness is our first strike.
I understand speaking out against misogyny and chauvinism, I get that. And let us not forget the sexual violence and gender oppression women involved in the black power/civil rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s faced, but how can we invalidate the roots of our struggles? Black power is for black women who are raising black sons, that are running corporations, that are the only persons of color in most rooms they walk into. Until we have transitioned into racial equality, we will never gain gender equality. We can’t afford to not fight that fight. The very fibers of black feminism depends on the black woman’s involvement in that fight. How can we sit there and say #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen?
When I was about 19ish, I began to work on a documentary about the culture of girl fights. I used to fight a lot as a young girl, I got suspended, expelled and arrested for fighting a lot as a young girl. But at 19, a previous experience snapped me out of that. So I set out to do this documentary, and when I sat down with a group of young girls at the South Bronx Police Athletic League who were all on probation for the same thing, I had no idea what I was in for. One girl was sitting down with a cane propped up against her chair. She had been shot three times recently and still needed the cane to get around. She was on probation for fighting, her and her friends jumped a girl they didn’t like. And one night on her way home, she saw a group of young guys following her and her cousin, she got scared and told her little cousin to run on the count of 3. Three shots. The first ripped through her leg, the last ripped through her back and came out her stomach. She almost died. She was 15 years old at the time. I promise you this— that girls first fight is not feminism. It is not sexism. It is racism. It is social and economic equality. She cannot fight for her rights as a woman in a boardroom, if she cannot first get out of the hood as a black girl.
And reasons like that is why #BlackPowerIsNOTJUSTForBlackMen
If as a young woman you’ve had daddy issues, you’ve surely also had mommy issues…
Observation of a young, complicated life. I have been pretty transparent about my issues with my father. Both as a child, and as an adult. With him both being absent by choice, and absent by law. It is said in psychology that children who have absent fathers have a tendency to blame themselves for the absence. Thinking they did something wrong, or they pushed him away, or in some way they weren’t enough. And as a child I didn’t realize I was struggling with this blame-game. I blamed myself for a lot. I blamed myself for my father being gone, for him choosing to not be as present and firmly planted in my life as he was when I was a toddler in Jamaica being raised in a two parent household. I blamed myself for him choosing to be more present in the lives of the children of the women he dated, more than he was in mine. I blamed myself when he would pop up, and then leave again… Was it something I said? In my mind, it was all my fault. Everything. Then when blaming myself didn’t work, when it started to become illogical to blame myself for the choices of a grown, able bodied man, I began to blame my mother.
It was all her fault. She left him. She separated us. She kept me from him. She brought me to America, leaving him behind in Jamaica. She tore apart the family. As a child, it didn’t make sense to me why a woman who suffered physical abuse, emotional abuse, disrespect, neglect, control, possessiveness, would leave a man and separate him from his child. So it was her fault. You cannot resent an absent father without deflecting blame in some way on your mother. This is a natural part of the mourning process. The process of understanding, accepting. I blamed and hated my mother for years. It took me my whole life to accept my fathers mess as his alone. As the carrier of a young, wounded spirit, you are not mature enough, whole enough, healed enough to accept his mess as his alone. And so you blame. In understanding and grasping our grief, we blame. Why? Because when you can find the source of your hurt, your pain, you can fix it.
If you have physical, internal pain in your body and you go to the doctor to get diagnosed, and the doctor tells you what it is that you have that is causing the pain, they can give you medicine to treat it or give you surgery to fix it. But when it is not our physical form that is in pain, it is hard to fix. It is hard to pinpoint the source, the reason, the cause… And in our healing process, we blame, thinking if we know who, we can confront and fix. There is no one who has suffered the absence of a parent that has not blamed their present parent. My child self dragged my mother through the mud! It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was able to say “Okay, dad. You did this. You left. It was your decision to not be apart of me. You robbed me of this relationship. No excuses. It was nobody’s fault but your own. There was nothing mommy could have done differently, to make you do what you did differently. This is on you!” It took me forever to feel that. And now I am at peace with my mother knowing she did the very best she could with what she knew. I am even at peace with my father. This understanding, this peace, has allowed me to retract any unnecessary blame from her, thus setting her free from my pain. And setting myself free.
As a New Yorker, a young black New Yorker, I’ve always had pretty strong feelings about the stop-and-frisk tactic employed by the NYPD. I, along with many other New Yorkers, have always felt that the stops were racially motivated and objective. But it was legal, and so it persisted. But this Monday, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that it violated the 4th and and 14th amendment of the young black and Hispanic men that it targeted. In her 195-page decision, she concluded that it was a policy of indirect racial profiling, and that NYPD officers were routinely stopping blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white. Thank you! It is no doubt that the young black men of New York City were disproportionately targeted by this racist policy. Growing up in the Bronx, I saw first hand the unreasonableness of this policy. I’ve seen my peers, who were just walking down the street, sometimes with a group, sometimes alone, get stopped, harassed and patted down. Thrown against a car, thrown against a building, steady getting the pat down… And then those officers would walk away with nothing. No drugs, no weapon; 94% of the time they’d win nothing like they just popped a Snapple top.
In examining the numbers, in 2011 alone, 685,724 stops were made. Only 9% of those stopped were white. Only 6% of those stops led to an arrest, and contraband was only found in 2% of stops. We’re really fighting crime with this policy, eh?
My beef with the stop and frisk policy has migrated to a beef with the Mayor of New York City— Michael Bloomberg. Not only is he a strong supporter and enforcer of the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy, once stating that the policy’s only flaw was that it didn’t stop enough blacks and Hispanics, but he has enough audacity to fight the ruling and move forward with an appeal. What?! How can any fair and just, or even sensible, person not see how problematic this policy is? And who’s responsible for reading off these numbers to Bloomberg? Because with blacks and Hispanics comprising only 23% and 29% of New York residents, respectively, and 84% being stopped, how are we not stopping them enough? And with only 6% of stops actually leading to arrests, how is this tactic truly helping lower the crime rate in New York City? Perhaps this Power Ranger of a Mayor knows.
And on account of his appeal, when answering questions about why he is filing an appeal, Bloomberg answered that he wants the policy to run at least to the end of his term because “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a lot of people dying.” And these are the life & times of Young, Black America. These are the battles we’re facing, while Twitter nation is fighting back against Russell Simmons debasing a legacy that is un-debasable to begin with. But you know how we do, we fight the wrong battles and what not.
Statistics: The Center for Constitutional Rights
According to a study by the Pew Research Center’s Economic Mobility Project, one in 28 kids have a parent in prison. And granted I am no longer a kid, but I stand in that statistic. For months I have been trying to come to terms with the fact that my father may never be a free man again, that I may never get to hug him again, or see him face to face since his current dwelling place only allows video visitation, and I guess it hasn’t completely hit me yet. Now, I’ve always written about the youth and the issues we face, but a lot of my writing has never been personal. Just researched, compiled data re-worded with flair and passion. But this time, its personal. I have questions, personal questions that no amount of compiled data can answer. My dad is in jail preparing to stand trial for Attempted Murder in the first degree, aggravated battery with a firearm, and shooting at/within a building. Charges he has to beat with the aid of a public defender. He’s facing 25 years to life, and at 55 years old, if convicted he won’t be eligible for parole until he is 80. What if I never have a dad again? What if my children never meet their grandpa? My dad would make a great grandpa! This is really hard. I think his strength has been getting me through this… "I’m good in here, baby girl, I’m a soldier… I just beat the guys in dominoes," then he hits me with that screechy laugh I inherited from him. I also think his optimism (or is it delusion?) that he will get off and finally be out has also been getting me through this. When Oprah ran her special about fatherless daughters, that resonated with me because for greater parts of my life, I was the kind of fatherless daughter she was talking about. The daughter with an absent father. Now I’m another kind of fatherless daughter. I’m a fatherless daughter two times over. Some days that’s easy and tolerable to comprehend, while other days not so much. I went to visit him recently, and within the 45 minute time frame we were allotted, we joked and reminisced, he updated me on his condition, I updated him on mine, and at the end of the visit he was sad. Like, painfully sad. The screen is counting down the seconds, people around me have gotten up to leave, I’ve said goodbye, and he’s sitting there with the phone glued to his ear. His face, comparable to that kid in the window of the pet shop staring down the sleeping puppy his parents won’t let him have, moved me. So, he’s not so good after all? I wish I could see him every day, and talk to him every day, and comfort him every day, and hug him every day, let him know he’s not alone every day. This. Is. Hard. And its one of those hard things that’s even harder to talk about, because who has sympathy for the bad guy? Or the people that love the bad guy? This isn’t a movie. If my father was absent in the socially accepted sense of the word, or dying of a terminal disease, or away at war, consolation would be easier to come by. But nobody feels sorry for the spawn of the bad guy. So whatever feelings I may carry, I hold it in like breath under water until I burst, because I am not allowed to come up for air.
Release… I love my pop-pop. Absent or not.
You know how they say the only thing worse than white-on-black crime is black-on-black crime? It’s safe to say the same goes for criticism. This week, Don Lemon caused a shit storm of controversy when he piggybacked old faithful Bill O’reilly’s criticism of the black community. Bill O’reilly, the self-appointed authority on all things black America, offered his synopsis on why there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts, saying it is a result of “the disintegration of the black family” and hip-hop promoting “gangsta culture,” among other things. O’reilly’s criticism went largely untouched until Don Lemon came through in the clutch to criticise O’reilly. But it was what he was criticising him for that through many for a loop. “In my estimation, he doesn’t go far enough [in criticising the black community],” he said of O’reilly. Then began to offer his five ways to fix our community:
1. Don’t have children out of wedlock
2. Don’t litter
3. Stop sagging your pants
4. Stop using the N-word
5. Finish school
Don, Don, Don… His reprimanding of Bill O’reilly for not going far enough in his criticism of blacks, was not only insensitive and ignorant, but the solutions he offered was unreasonable and lacked intellect and a depth of understanding. #BlackTwitter in return waged a war against him, tearing through his mentions at warp speed, and making very good points. When addressing the litany of injustices affecting the black community, we cannot offer individualized fixes to systematic ills. I am tired of black people blaming black people for their suffering and disadvantages. Because even if we stopped consuming rap, started dressing more conservatively, married and had children and landscaped our dilapidated communities our damn selves, our systematic woes would still exist. Racism would still persevere. So, by way of black-on-black criticism, what are we really accomplishing? What are we trying to prove? Or better yet, what are we trying to improve? Black-on-black criticism, like the one offered up by Don Lemon, and ones that have been offered up by Bill Cosby for decades, only accomplishes one thing: validating the beliefs of privileged white Americans that we, and not the system that has us at its mercy, are the ones to blame for our peril. There is no real change that can come from bashing your own. We are taking the blame off of the giant shoulders of the American system, and placing it on the weak shoulders of blacks. Because what Don Lemon doesn’t know, since as he pointed out he’s lived in mostly predominantly white neighborhoods his whole life, is that even if a young black boy pulled up his pants, he will still stand to be racially profiled. Even if we dressed up in our Sunday’s best and showed up to the polls, we still face voter disenfranchisement, as one Twitter user pointed out. And even if we stopped littering in our communities, our industrial-zoned communities would still not receive necessary funding and improvements that would bring about the kind of change our communities need. Let’s not slap band-aid’s on war wounds. And yes, Don Lemon, you were right when you said at some point an abused woman has to leave her abuser. But let us be careful as to not blame the woman for the abuse that she sustained. After all, she is the victim in all of this.
ohquesarahsarah asked: I just wanted to say I read your post and thought it was amazing. These are very crazy times and I know as a white female I won't ever fully be able to grasp what it's like to endure all the prejudice and racial shit that still happens today for black people and other races too. I'm sorry you have to go through that shit, and know that I'm not going to be over this trial or these issues either until things are changed and we can all evolve with a better understanding of each other.
Thank you, Sarah! Although you will never have to actually go through it, the fact that you are even open enough to understanding the Black American struggle is a great thing! Most white’s are in absolute denial, and racism still thrives in the shadow of their refusal to acknowledge its existence. Thank you for seeking the truth.
21st Century racism has always been something that has equally intrigued me and boggled me. Through the most recent happenings in the media (the Zimmerman Trial, the Paula Deen fallout, etc.), we have been able to examine and dissect race relations in such an honest and open way, and truly approach racism and the idea of white privilege from an inside-out perspective, versus an outside-in one. But what is white privilege? And is white denial, by way of social and economic privilege, the new racism?
In conversations I’ve had recently with white people, about both the Zimmerman trial and the Paula Deen “thing,” I found myself in unfamiliar emotional territory. Frozen in place, the left side of my brain was crippled… How do I begin to explain to these people, these socially sheltered people, that it wasn’t OK for Paula Deen to request that her employees dress up as “pre-civil war servants?” And that it wasn’t reasonable to believe that Zimmerman, after initiating and ending a confrontation with an unarmed teenager, was anything other than guilty? And even further than that, how do I begin to put in words how, where, when, why it’s not so easy for us to get over it? And even after one of them stated that “people are still so sensitive about that stuff,” how do I break down to her in racially privileged, socially ignorant, insensitive layman terms, that “that stuff” is not something we become desensitized to? Like, ever. I don’t know how to. And so I walk away.
I don’t want to believe that just because people are not privy to the African-American condition, and don’t understand how centuries on top of centuries of physical, mental, psychological, emotional and judicial entrapment still embattle us today, that they are racist. But it could very well mean just that. Because like all things, there’s levels to this racism shit. Ranging from blatant chase a nigger with a rifle, to subtle invalidating and denying someone’s reality. Now, taking into consideration the social construction of class and race relations in this country, it is nescient to deny the black American experience. And in this denial, any indignation from black America should be felt. Now, here’s to hoping this dialogue opens up minds, and challenge’s mind-sets.
From my side of America, to yours,
I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about career. In my mind, I was born to be this brilliant writer of incredibly poignant material, and every time I try to step into that, I find myself being pushed out, almost divinely. (That was a lot of commas). So I find myself in this hair field, and most days I’m excited and I feel like I’ve found my calling, and other days I’m like “this is it? Is this really how I will leave my mark?” It just seems like such a trivial career. But it is mind blowing how natural this comes to me, how much I’ve excelled so far, the things I’m learning, it’s almost like this sort of is what I was supposed to do. I’ve also been specializing in color, and the chemistry and complication and intricacy and beauty of color, I’m in love!! Delving in and understanding color molecules and value and hue and the reactive properties of ammonia, peroxide, oxygen; hell, the whole periodic table! It’s incredible! I come alive when I learn more about color, it excites me! And then when I’m learning about color, I realize how un-trivial this all is. So it’s OK to have other passions, as I meet people in this industry all day long with other passions, and who knows? I may even be able to revisit this passion later down the line. Perhaps, I’ll become such a master at what I do that I’ll, I dunno, write a book about it ;)