Category Archives: Voices

Voices: Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Front page, The Sowetan newspaper, Soweto, South Africa. Image via Lydia Polgreen.

African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. African women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after 11 o’clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the labour bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.

Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy. But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

- Nelson Mandela, during the first day of his trial on charges of sabotage, April 20, 1964.

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Voices: Halloween — A White Privilege Christmas

By Arturo R. García

Halloween is getting worse by the year.

Consider last weekend, when the sight of Julianne Hough using blackface to dress as a character from Orange Is The New Black was followed within hours by the sight of two Florida men, Greg Cimeno and William Filene, adding themselves to the ranks of the rank with their Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman “costume.”

We won’t link to that image here. But we’d be remiss in not pointing out that their cohort, Massachusetts native Caitlin Cimeno, took the time out of her day to photograph a Black child without her consent and post this diatribe against her shirt bearing the words, Black Girls Rock:

First of all, sorry Hun but mommy lied to you & secondly if I was wearing a shirt that said something like the truth ‘white girls rock’ I would be stared at and called a racist cracker.

Well, now people are staring at them and calling them racists. And worse. And deservedly so.

But, of course, they’re not alone. Certainly Greg Cimeno and Filene aren’t alone in mocking Trayvon Martin. And, as Angry Asian Man points out, it’s not just the Black community being targeted:

Behold, the a-sholes who dressed up as bruised and bloodied Asiana Airlines flight attendants. This photo was apparently taken over the weekend at the Sidetrack Video Bar in Chicago.

Their costumes, of course, refer to Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crashed earlier this year in San Francisco, killing three passengers. And yes, their name badges identify themselves as “Ho Lee Fuk,” “Sum Ting Wong” and “Wi Tu Lo” — the fake racist flight crew names that infamously ran as a prank on KTVU.

Under the cut, we’ll take a look at some of the best responses to what’s become a White Privilege Christmas — a sort of migratory call for every two-bit prejudiced reject from The Onion to show the world just how low they’re willing to go because they lack both imagination and humanity.
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Voices: March For Immigrant Dignity And Respect

By Arturo R. García

About 3,000 people attended the March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect in San Diego, Calif. All pictures by Arturo R. García.

On Saturday, thousands of immigrants and immigration advocates took to the streets across the country for the national March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect, a renewed call for U.S. lawmakers to stop dragging their feet on heavily-promised immigration reform. In San Diego, the event drew at least 3,000 people by police estimates, a mix of religious, labor, education and nursing groups from multiple communities.

In English: “Obama, where is the reform?”

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Voices Revisited: 9/11 And Communities Of Color

Twelve years after the September 11th attacks, we wanted to take this chance to revisit stories told from the perspective of Muslim communities and other communities of color dealing with the event. First, this episode of the Ask A Muslim webseries posted last year, in which Imam Murad Abdul-Zahir breaks down the backlash against Muslims following the attacks: “Anyone even resembling a Muslim were attacked and came under a lot of scrutiny.”

And two years ago, Latoya introduced us to the Unheard Voices of 9/11, a collection of short testimonials that included this one from Gigi El Sayed.

“They called you racist. They called you terrorist,” she explains. “I was still a child. I barely understood the words and I would ask my parents … My mom almost had her scarf pulled off in an elevator.”

There’s also this story by Amenah, a Staten Island resident, about her experience after telling classmates she was making her pilgrimage to Mecca:

“I remember distinctly that the boy who was behind me had remarks for me not to bring a bomb back,” Amenah says. “I remember that the whole class had heard his remark, and that nobody had said anything.”

But to end on a positive note, let’s also revisit this video by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) — particularly the young student featured around the :52 mark: “It’s time we raise our voices and return to our ideals — of an America that is open to diversity, accepts varied viewpoints, protects the rights of all and is tolerant of differences.”

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.

 

Voices: Bloomberg, Stop And Frisk, And Consequences For NYC

Photo via The Atlantic

The closer we come to the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s term, the clearer it becomes that he’s more than comfortable with leaving a slew of issues for his successor to deal with. Bloomberg remains unwavering in his support of Stop and Frisk, even accusing the media outlets reporting on its opposition of being racist in their own right. The next mayor of New York is going to have to deal with the policy’s fallout and choose whether or not to finally acknowledge the toll it takes on Black and Latino communities throughout the city.

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Voices: Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

Roger and Chaz Ebert. Image via Chicago Sun-Times.

How can I begin to tell you about Chaz? She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she has my love, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading. If my cancer had come, and it would have, and Chaz had not been there with me, I can imagine a descent into lonely decrepitude. I was very sick. I might have vegetated in hopelessness. This woman never lost her love, and when it was necessary she forced me to want to live. She was always there believing I could do it, and her love was like a wind forcing me back from the grave.

Does that sound too dramatic? You were not there. She was there every day, visiting me in the hospital whether I knew it or not, becoming an expert on my problems and medications, researching possibilities, asking questions, making calls, even giving little Christmas and Valentine’s Day baskets to my nurses, who she knew by name.
–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, July 17, 2012.

He fought a courageous fight. I’ve lost the love of my life and the world has lost a visionary and a creative and generous spirit who touched so many people all over the world,” she said. “We had a lovely, lovely life together, more beautiful and epic than a movie. It had its highs and the lows, but was always experienced with good humor, grace and a deep abiding love for each other.
–Chaz Ebert, quoted in People Magazine, April 4, 2013.

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