Category Archives: Voices

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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Voices: On Adria Richards

Former SendGrid “developer evangelist” Adria Richards. Image via butyoureagirl.com

Let’s begin with Adria Richards’ own words.

Have you ever had a group of men sitting right behind you making joke that caused you to feel uncomfortable? Well, that just happened this week but instead of shrinking down in my seat, I did something about it an here’s my story …

Yesterday, I publicly called out a group of guys at the PyCon conference who were not being respectful to the community.

For those of you visiting from Hacker News from the tweet and from this post, thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the context.

Richards tweeted a picture of two men near her who joked about “dongles” and “forking repos” during the conference. She informed conference staff, she said, after seeing a picture of a girl who took part in a coding workshop during the event made her worry about the environment created by the “forking” jokes.

The situation degenerated when one of the two men–neither of whom she identified–was fired by his company. As TechCrunch reported, the unnamed employee apologized for the original joke on Hacker News, but also noted Richards’ platform:

Adria has an audience and is a successful person of the media. Just check out her web page linked in her Twitter account, her hard work and social activism speaks for itself. With that great power and reach comes responsibility. As a result of the picture she took I was let go from my job today. Which sucks because I have 3 kids and I really liked that job.

Shortly thereafter, Richards was the target of a string of personal and professional attacks, including the posting of her personal information online, death threats, slurs, accusations of “misandry”, and even attacks against her employer, Sendgrid.

Later, Sendgrid CEO Jim Franklin announced that the company had terminated Richards, saying, “her actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite.” The original incident was glossed over, and the attacks against both the company and its own employee were not addressed at all. Franklin closed comments on his post on Monday.

The conference also altered its code of conduct to forbid public shaming, requiring future disputes to be reported to PyCon staff. There is no mention, however, of what happens if there are conflicting accounts of an incident or if convention staff disagrees with a person’s assessment of something as offensive or triggering. Is what happens at PyCon supposed to stay at PyCon from now on?

Over at Shakesville, Melissa McEwan also contributed to the conversation on Twitter, starting the #IAskedPolitely tag, where several people shared their stories of being told they were “too sensitive,”  to get over it. To deal. Stories of being silenced.

Meanwhile, Colorlines reported that Richards’ firing might not hold up in the legal arena, as the argument can be made that she was basically sacked for acting as a whistleblower. But those accounts and this fact are both seemingly lost on the increasingly outraged wave of tech enthusiasts who have seemingly seized the moment to “defend their territory.” Below we’ll hear from some people on the other side of the debate.

TRIGGER WARNING for some of the entries under the cut.

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Voices: RIP Trayvon Martin, One Year Later

It rained in Sanford, Fla., on Tuesday, just like it did exactly a year ago when Trayvon Martin died there.

The shooting death of an unarmed black 17-year-old at the hands of a part-white, part-Peruvian neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community catapulted the central Florida city into headlines around the world and launched heated discussions about race and guns and Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

George Zimmerman, 29, faces second-degree murder charges in the case after invoking that law, which allows the use of deadly force in some life-threatening situations.

Despite the damp conditions Tuesday, a crowd amassed outside Sanford’s Goldsboro Welcome Center and the Goldsboro Historical Museum by midmorning. Museum curator Francis Oliver said she opened the welcome center a few hours early to accommodate the score or so of people who gathered to get a glimpse at the items memorializing the slain teenager.

There are crosses and flags, dolls and pictures of the teenager, Oliver said of the items showcased at the permanent memorial made from the items that initially cropped up outside the Retreat at Twin Lakes, the gated community where Trayvon was fatally shot.
- Marisa Gerber, Los Angeles Times

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Voices: The Django Debate

Image via AVClub.com

Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network called for a national boycott Tuesday of action figures based on the controversial and blood-soaked slavery revenge flick Django Unchained. A 10-doll assortment of characters from the film was going for $299 on Amazon Tuesday.

“Selling this doll is highly offensive to our ancestors and the African American community,” Rev. K.W. Tulloss, NAC’s president in Los Angeles, told the Daily News. “The movie is for adults, but these are action figures that appeal to children. We don’t want other individuals to utilize them for their entertainment, to make a mockery of slavery.”

New York Daily News

First of all, Django Unchained could’ve gone horribly wrong. However brilliant a director, Quentin Tarantino is famous amongst people of color for fetishizing African-American culture, and his liberal use of the N-word in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown still rankles folks 15 years after the fact. Tarantino injecting a Blaxploitation-style baadassss freed slave into his vision of the antebellum South could’ve been disastrous. The director’s recent comments about Roots, which he has described as “inauthentic” also raised the eyebrows of many filmgoers who were already nervous about what his slavery narrative would bring. Any crass, gratuitous depiction of Whites raping actress Kerry Washington in a popcorn movie, and “Django Unchained” would’ve been a wrap.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the Oscar-winning Jamie Foxx plays Django as a gunslinging superhero, the fastest gun in the West.

–Miles Marshall Lewis, Ebony

“When you look at Roots, nothing about it rings true in the storytelling, and none of the performances ring true for me either,” says Tarantino. “I didn’t see it when it first came on, but when I did I couldn’t get over how oversimplified they made everything about that time. It didn’t move me because it claimed to be something it wasn’t.”

While many white directors might shy away from criticizing such an iconic symbol of African-American culture, ­Tarantino doesn’t hold back. He’s confident in his knowledge of a time and subject most people know little about and would rather forget. He was also savvy enough to bring Hudlin on board. “There were times when I’d be filming a scene and really getting into it and Reg would just say, ‘Hey is this the story you wanted to tell?’ He’d bring the focus back if I got too carried away.”

–Alison Samuels, The Daily Beast

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Voices: Tragedy in Kansas City

Kasandra Perkins, 22, was killed by her boyfriend, football player Jovan Belcher, Saturday.

Of course Belcher is the headliner in this tragedy, because he apparently thanked the people trying to talk him out of killing himself for all they had done for him. Then he was gone, day before a game, outside Arrowhead Stadium, dead at 25.

But Jovan Belcher had a chance for it all to end differently, at least for him, no matter what brought him to this moment outside Arrowhead Stadium. That is why the real tragedy here — the real victim — is a young woman named Kasandra Michelle Perkins, whom Belcher shot and killed before he ever parked his car at the Chiefs’ practice facility and put that gun to his head.

She was 22 and the mother of Belcher’s child, a child who is 3 months old, a child who will grow up in a world without parents. At about 10 minutes to 8, according to Kansas City police, Jovan Belcher put a gun on the mother of his child in a house on the 5400 block of Chrysler Ave. in Kansas City and started shooting and kept shooting. You want to mourn somebody? Start with her.

“Welcome to our world,” a former New York City police detective I know said on Saturday about the shootings in Kansas City. “This time it just happened to be the National Football League.”
- Mike Lupica, New York Daily News

KCTV5

It should come as no surprise that Crennel, Chiefs players, Pioli, owner Clark Hunt and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell quickly agreed not to delay Sunday’s football congregation at Arrowhead Stadium.

Football is our God. Its exaggerated value in our society has never been more evident than Saturday morning in my adopted hometown. There’s just no way this game should be played.

Twenty-eight hours after witnessing one of his starting linebackers take his life, Crennel will stand on the sideline as young men play a violent game. Twenty-eight hours after one of their best friends killed the mother of his child and himself, Chiefs players will take the field and play a violent game.

Football is a game of emotion. Football is a game in which the coaches and players preach about treating each other as family.

How can they play Sunday? Why should they?
- Jason Whitlock, Fox News

“I definitely agree with the decision to play today,” wide receiver Dexter McCluster said. “This is the game we love. This is the game Jovan loved. This is the game fans love, so why not go out here and do something that we love to do?”

For others, the alternative was worse.

“The least-worst option was to play the game,” center Ryan Lilja said. “Suffering a tragedy like that, maybe the best thing was to be together and do what we do — and that’s what we do, we play football.”

In light of a 27-21 win and perhaps the Chiefs’ finest performance of the season, it’s hard to argue against going ahead with the game, which several players hoped might speed up the healing process.

- Tod Palmer, The Kansas City Star

According to medical studies, around 600 murder-suicide events take place each year in the United States, resulting in 1,000 to 1,500 deaths. Most of those don’t generate this much attention. As far as anyone can remember, this is the first such incident involving an athlete in America’s most popular sport.

Three months ago, a man shot a woman and then killed himself in the Kauffman Stadium parking lot a few hours before a Royals game. The victim in that shooting had two children, a school-aged son and a grown daughter. She spent weeks in a hospital; her spleen was removed, among other operations, but she has survived.

That story came and went faster than this one will, and if we’re smart we’ll gain some understanding about the problem. Maybe we’ll remember that domestic abuse is still a major problem in America.
- Sam Mellinger, The Kansas City Star