The Burdens of Blackness

By Guest Contributor Tikia K. Hamilton; originally published at The Feminist Wire

“It’s not hard being black, it’s just time-consuming is all.”

I recall a schoolmate in undergrad once saying to me, in an attempt to empathize about the difficult struggles of African Americans, that she imagined that it is quite hard being black. I had been describing to her my experiences of alienation while I was studying under a Dartmouth language program in Barcelona, Spain. At age 18, I did not suspect that my first voyage out of the United States would involve strangers picking through my braided hair; encountering “los conguitos,” or the daisy-duke outfitted pygmy chocolate candies Spanish vendors sold on the street; nor could I anticipate my Norwegian housemate’s level of racist comfort, before he complained at the dinner table in front of all who could hear him about Spanish women’s preference for “nigger dick.”

My schoolmate, a girl from Bulgaria, expressed to me that, after taking one or two black history courses back in the States, she had learned to feel sorry for older blacks, who had to bear the pain of a hate-filled past, as their previous persecutors now shared integrated travel space on buses and train with our grandmothers and grandfathers. But, as an Eastern European, she could not imagine that someone my age would be forced to endure similar mistreatment as civil-rights era blacks, especially in a foreign country.

The truth is, like so many people I know, before I had even understood Du Bois’s theory of “double consciousness,” I could count on two hands the number of times I endured these absurd moments, both in and outside of the United States. But, rather than assume the burden, a sort of victimized identity, in each circumstance, I never imagined that the problem lay with my blackness, but rather those individuals whom I obviously needed to check for their ignorance.  Like the time I cursed in Spanish a Oaxacan cashier for demanding that I open my purse in order that he might check to see if I had stolen perhaps a 25 cent bag of chips, or a 50 cent bottle of soda from the convenience store.  I  honestly don’t know who it was or when it was instilled in me that, by right and by obligation, it was my duty to those who would seek to make me uncomfortable in my own skin experience a greater level of humility in the face of a superior form of anger. It could have been my being raised alongside three brothers who made it their own duty to make me “tough.” Or, it could have been those history books that surrounded me in that cramped apartment on the Southside of Chicago, where six of us children shared two bedrooms, hand-me downs, and a weird fascination with the mice for whom we developed games, while they overran our apartment.

I know that my form of militancy—if in word only—is not something that everyone, especially my three brothers and other black men can always afford, as reflected in Questlove’s  “Lesson from the Zimmerman Verdict: Trayvon and I Ain’t Shit,” a compelling treatment of American racism and black male alienation.[1]  But, something I would have people know is the same thing many a black nationalist and pan-Africanist have over time have tried to drive home. We are not problems, or the problem. In the U.S. and within a worldwide context, the problem is, in fact, the disease of ignorance fueled by a great, if often unconscious, sense of entitlement and superiority.  But, however long or exhausting the battle, we can be the solutions. They say “anything worth having is worth the effort.”  Or, in the context surrounding one of my favorite quotes by that fiery abolitionist, Fredrick Douglass, in 1857, in a speech that foretold the coming of Civil War (a quote that I posted stridently above my chalkboard when I taught high school history at a predominantly white school in New York),

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.

Douglass’s words were not too dissimilar from that of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, who, although once a conflicted slaveholder, readied would-be revolutionists when he challenged us in “The Declaration of Independence” to throw dynamite, if you will, across the tracks of a “long train of abuses.”

Is it hard being a so-called minority? To this question, I can only imagine that Douglass and Jefferson, who both articulated a vision of rights for once disenfranchised minority groups, would shudder at the questions’ overall insignificance in the face of a drawn-out battles for emancipation and equality. To this question, I imagine that our feminist forebears, Anna Julia Cooper and, though limited in their inability to move beyond their own racist presumptions, Susan B. and Elizabeth C., would also challenge us to think outside of the box when it comes to asserting the rights of a disenfranchised minority.

To wit, I have been asked by friends directly (and indirectly by those skeptical of my “agenda”), whether it is prudent to wear race on my shoulders, especially in this age of increasing diversity. (Or, especially as a single black woman who risks scaring off potential mates.)  But, against racism and race, my knowledge of the ways in which race ultimately and unapologetically matters is not something that I can tuck away easily. Nor is it a thing that I desire to hide.  Yes, the veil is heavy and, at times, completely and utterly exhausting.  Many of us would desire, like anyone else, to have increased those quiet moments when we don’t have to think about the ills that continue to inflict the world. But, for some of us, it has become an accepted way of life. And if time is all we have, then time must be our weapon, until at some point, some place, a merciful God will at last hear our cries!


Tikia K. Hamilton is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at Princeton University. Her research examines black educational activism during the pre-Brown period in Washington, D.C., where she currently resides. She also holds a Masters in African-American Studies from Columbia University, and a degree in History from Dartmouth College. She is a former high school educator, and originally hails from Chicago.

 

The SDCC Files: Kendra’s Collective Coverage

By Kendra James

IMG_2554

I had the pleasure of joining Arturo in his home town this weekend to help in expanding coverage for San Diego Comic Con. It was my first time, but despite being slightly overwhelmed I sat in on a few panels, conducted a few interviews, pimped the site out in more than one podcast interview, and managed to get us some great video footage (which will likely debut sometime next week). I’ll have my full TV news roundup later this week, but for now my SDCC Storify panel reaps, and a selection of adorable kids enjoying their con time under the cut.

I focused on the instructional panels– talks that offered advice in how to get ahead in writing and marketing yourself in the entertainment world as an indie media maker. We’ll talk more about this in depth next week, but for now the recaps from two writing panels.

The Writer’s Journey

Writing For TV

The full SDCC was rather intense, so for a (very, very) abbreviated peek with a slightly glitchy Storify, I tried to collect some of the tweeted observations from Art and I:

The San Diego Comic Con 2013 Experience

And lastly, I spent a lot of time with cosplayers this week, and they’re all under the cut:

Continue reading

The SDCC Files: Arturo’s Collected Coverage

By Arturo R. García

This year, we expanded our coverage at San Diego Comic-Con to bring you more panels, more interviews, and more images from pop culture’s weekend-long prom. Kicking us off: a roundup of all but one of the panels I attended, in Storified form. I’ll have a recap of Rep. John Lewis’ (D-GA) appearance on Wednesday, along with some extra material.

 

Also, to clarify one item from the Black Panel recap, there really was a “Black Spider-Man” there who was not cosplaying Miles Morales. He was ahead of me in the line to ask questions of the panel:

Open Thread: True Blood 6.6: “Don’t You Feel Me”

Hosted by Joseph Lamour

jpeg

True Blood is really veering off from the books, isn’t it? It’s so different now.

Try as I might to keep myself from repeating a presumably annoying statement, this current season is so very unlike anything in the Charlaine Harris novels. Readers like me had seasons worth of spoilers at our disposal.  And now, I’m just a viewer.Like everyone else. Surprise! Sookie and company can actually throw us a curve ball now and again. 

Rather than a recap, I’ve been thinking about a couple of things regarding the new direction. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments:

  • Where do you think this Warlow plot is going? Do you even care?
    So: he’s evil, but hes pure. But he’s a vampire, but he’s fae, He is danger personified (I’m still not quite getting that from Rob Kazinsky, he’s still giving me innocence as his default face), but he waited thousands upon thousands of years to be with Sookie. But, he killed her parents. But… her parents tried to kill her — one of who tried again as a ghost.  

    This whole fae storyline seems to be filled with things (balls of light! antechambers!) that really add nothing but… pieces of flare to the story.  I was so excited last year when Sookie found her human grandfather in the fae world, because (again, sorry folks) I loved that whole storyline in the books, and well… not so much on screen. Last season, right after Sookie and her grandfather left that realm, that was the last mention of it. The powers-that-be even cast a queen of the fae (played by the should-be-more-famous Rebecca Wisocky) and since Niall, apparently, is the last royal… she may be important. Or a plot hole.

  • DEATH! Or, How do you feel about the death of [Spoiler Alert]? Is it just me, or…
    should is every supporting actor on True Blood  start planning back up gigs? So much death… and confirmation of death: Sadly, the faesome foursome is now simply Adilyn Bellefleur. Fae don’t seem to be very durable. Especially if you consider the Faerie Club Massacre.

    The whole plot leading up to last night’s regarding the character in question made me think a plot device (like, perhaps a fire god?) would provide a reprieve. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Are they just killing folks off for kicks? Or are they running out of surprises?

  • What does everyone think of Packmaster Jerkface?
    This whole season it feels like they’re just giving Joe Magianello things to say so that Alcide, his abs, and his everything else can make an appearance. I don’t like how quickly power made Alcide a jerk.

    Though, that is what happens in the books.

  • Do we like Willa? 
    Because, I do. I’m hoping she sticks around. She gives me Babyvamp Jessica vibes. Discuss.

Quoted: President Obama: ‘Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago’

Partial transcript:

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
- Full transcript available via The White House

Must Read: Race, History, Colonialism and Assassin’s Creed IV

Friend of the blog Evan Narcisse wrote an interesting take on playing through historical worlds while black:

The game begins in 1715, when European rule over the island was still firmly established. That means I might be traipsing around an island where some Frenchman with my last name owns someone who looks like my father. And that might make me wince a little. But Ismail also told me that Edward Kenway’s first mate Adewale starts the game as a slave and becomes a free man over the course of the single-player story. Adewale will also be the focus of some of Black Flag‘s DLC.

Slavery Gives Me a Weird Personal Connection to Assassin's Creed IV

Focusing on Adewale and touching on slavery as it might’ve been lived in the early 1700s moves the racial portrayal forward from last year’s Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. The heroine of that Vita game was the child of a slave and had missions where she freed others from servitude. And, with confirmation that Aveline will also be playable in PlayStation-exclusive add-ons for the game, ACIV will have two prominent black characters where so many titles struggle to have even one.

Narcisse also explores his own family history and what he hopes to see reflected in the game play.  Read the rest at Kotaku.

The Racialicious San Diego Comic Con Preview: Saturday + Sunday

By Arturo R. García

Compared to Friday and Saturday, the tail end of San Diego Comic-Con is starkly, depressingly light on diversity-centric panel discussions. But there is one major, notable highlight.

As ever, you can follow Kendra or myself to follow our progress throughout the weekend. But to take a look at more specific events, head on down under the cut.

Continue reading

The Racialicious Links Roundup 7.18.13: Baby Veronica, Zimmerman’s Race; His Lawyers

Dusten Brown and his daughter, Veronica. The Washington Post/Getty Images

  • In its ruling, the US Supreme Court held that Dusten Brown, and his daughter, Baby Veronica—who are both citizens of the Cherokee Nation—were essentially not protected under the Indian Child Welfare Act. As such, the case was bounced back to the South Carolina court. After the ruling, Brown ironically attempted to adopt his own daughter in Oklahoma, since the high court didn’t recognize his rights as a parent. But Oklahoma declined to hear the petition, claiming that South Carolina retained exclusive jurisdiction of the case, since that was where the potential adoptive parents resided.

    “Baby Veronica To Be Adopted by White Couple” Colorlines

  • “George Zimmerman, neighborhood watchman and wannabe cop, placed a bet on his whiteness; when he shot and killed a young, unarmed black teenager because they always get away, he spoke with an oppressor’s voice, and for his service the oppressor’s justice absolved him. But Zimmerman, liminal and of questionable loyalty, is not beyond betrayal — if his victim had been blond and named Travis then Fox News would likely be crowing about immigrant intrusiveness, the dangers of Mexicans with guns, rather than celebrating his right to bear arms. (Zimmerman’s mother is from Peru, but somehow the variegated rainbow of Latin identities always seem to collapse into Mexican-ness when under discussion, especially on Fox News.)”

    “Is George Zimmerman white or Hispanic? That depends” Salon

  • “No, George Zimmerman is not white. But his assumptions about black men are rooted in the foundational assumptions of white supremacy and his treatment by the justice system have conferred upon him privileges usually reserved for white men. The malleability of white supremacy for non-black bodies says something about the singular power and threat of the black body in this kind of racialized system.

    Though much of the mainstream media who have covered this case have convinced themselves that race did not play a role in this trial, a black kid is dead because being young, black and male, and wearing a hoodie in the rain is apparently a crime punishable by death.”

    “White supremacy, meet black rage” Salon