Tag Archives: activism

The Line Between Solidarity and Appropriation: Learning from Jewish Blackface in History [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Wendy Elisheva Somerson

“I remember your grandfather leaving the house in blackface to perform at the local Jewish community center,” my mom told me. “They just didn’t know what it meant back then,” she explained, “not until after WW II.” As an activist involved in contemporary solidarity work across racial lines, I was shocked to discover this racist history in my near past. As an Ashkenazi Jew* (of European descent) whose grandparents immigrated to the US around the turn of the century, I don’t always see myself implicated in the American legacy of slavery, but I was forced to reconcile the fond memories of my jovial grandfather with this haunting image of him performing racial minstrelsy. Trying to make sense of this image, I began researching the history of Jewish blackface between WWI and WWII and was surprised to discover a connection between my current activism and this history of blackface: When we are not rooted in our Jewish identities, we risk stereotyping, appropriating, and over-identifying with other cultures.

To understand the complicated history of alliance, disconnection, and overlap between Ashkenazi Jews and African Americans in between the world wars, I turned to Eric Goldstein’s The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity, which considers how Jews negotiated competing claims on their identities and Michael Rogin’s Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot, which looks more specifically at the role of blackface in Americanizing Jews. As European Jewish immigrants arrived in the US, their presence intersected with the dominant black/white system of racial relations in various ways. At different times, Jews and African Americans were linked tightly together in American consciousness as evidenced by the case of Leo Frank (1913-1915), which sets the stage for Jewish-Black relations in between the wars. A Jewish factory manager in Georgia, Frank was accused of raping and murdering a white girl who worked in his factory. Frank was found guilty (in spite of flimsy evidence) and sentenced to death, but the Governor commuted his sentence to life in prison. A journalist warned in a headline: “The next Jew who does what Frank did is going to get exactly the same thing we give to Negro rapists” (Goldstein 43). Frank was then kidnapped from prison and lynched by a white mob.
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Not an Ending, a Beginning: Notes on Occupy Wall Street

By Guest Contributor Manissa McCleave Maharawal, originally published at In Front and Center

In the past few weeks friends and family from around the country have asked me, with a deep urgency in their tone: “What is it like to be there? What does it feel like? How would you describe it?” These questions throw me because, like any project of describing life as it happens around you, when you are very much in it, it feels impossible sometimes. And so instead of describing what Occupy Wall Street feels like I say: “It is all happening so fast, it changes everyday, it is overwhelming, I am tired but I am also excited again, I’ve made new friends, new lovers and new enemies, I couldn’t have imagined my life would be like this a month ago.”

OWS 1

When I said this to my friend Amy last week she laughed and replied, half-jokingly: “That sounds like the start of the revolution.”

“Not yet,” I replied “but we’re trying.”

But my inability to answer this question has been nagging at me: Why is it so hard to describe what it feels like to be part of this movement that is not really a movement, this moment, this space? Maybe the fact that it is hard to describe is part of its strength? Continue reading

Carefree White Girl x Creepy Pervs at #OccupyWallStreet

by Guest Contributor Collier Meyerson, originally published at Carefree White Girl

From the creator:

“We instantly went to Tumblr and made hotchicksofoccupywallstreet.tumblr.com. Our original ideas were admittedly sophomoric: Pics of hot chicks being all protesty, videos of hot chicks beating drums in slow-mo, etc. But when we arrived at Zuccotti Park in New York City, it evolved into something more.

There was a vibrant energy in the air, a warmth of community and family, and the voices we heard were so hopeful and passionate. Pretty faces were making signs, giving speeches, organizing crowds, handing out food, singing, dancing, debating, hugging and marching.”

The Occupation of Wall Street was, plain and simple meant to be a rejection of corporate America. But the video and author’s description above are instead a sendup to the very culture the occupiers claim to be corrupting. The music sounds like a Rick Perry campaign commercial and acts as a silencer to further their agenda of objectification. Oh, right, there are those three soundbites that capture the maternal essence of ALL of those hotchicksatoccupywallstreet. Are the hotchicksatoccupywallstreet concerned with the IMF, or say, pushing for collective bargaining in the Teachers Union? No, hotchicksatoccupywallstreet only talk about children, beauty, children, Gandhi and children.

From the outset, the imagery circulating the internet of “Occupy Wall Street” is reflective of a white and young adherence. Paradoxically, this video “piece” has three people of color in it, which, sadly seems like a lot when it comes to OWS coverage. Even stranger, two of the three women of color featured in the film are given voice, whereas the white women remain objects of beauty. Peculiar, ey? Taken straight from the pages of the corporate America’s advertising handbook, the reproduction of images seen in this video play into the reinforcement of the white woman’s stand alone beauty and the black and brown woman’s strength.

I feel like I don’t even need to speak to how the creators of this piece cop to the standards of beauty so i’ll just make a list of the ways in which they did it to save time:

skinny + white + slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww music + +slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww images + no voice = carefree white girl

It is monstrosities such as this that add to my skepticism of having a movement without intentionality. If, from the beginning there was a “General Assembly” that looked more like the General Assembly at the UN, and if from the beginning there was thought put into the whole IDEA of what occupation has meant in this country (see: COLONIALISM) and how skeptical people of color are to that notion I think that we’d be seeing a much more nuanced and thoughtful process. The call for the redistribution of wealth alone does not get at the root of the problem. We have to think about this more critically and we have to be more vigilant of those (like homeboys that made this video) that are trying to keep existing power structures steadily in place.

As a woman and as a woman of color who has been down there various times since its inception, I’m not comfortable yet. Help me get there and not by doing DUMB SHIT LIKE THIS.

Decolonization and Occupy Wall Street

by Guest Contributor Robert Desjarlait

Decolonize Oakland

The Occupy Wall Street protest has become a matter of debate in Indian Country. Some have chosen to be included under the slogan – “We Are The 99%; others, like me, have chosen to be excluded from the 99%. Many of those who support it have come up with their own slogan – DECOLONIZE WALL STREET. I simply don’t believe that the indigenous nations on Turtle Island are a part of that 99% equation, let alone that the Occupy Wall Street movement is about decolonization.

One protester, Brendan Burke, said: “Everyone has this problem. White, black. Rich or poor. Where you live. Everyone has a financial inequity oppressing them.”

I assume from his statement that Burke only sees things in white and black. Apparently he is color blind when it comes to red and the brown. As far as financial inequity is concerned, we, the red and the brown peoples of the Americas, have suffered financial inequity ever since the oppressors first invaded our shores. Financial inequity – perhaps better termed as socio-economic inequity – began with the subjugation of our lands through treaties. Annuity payments were often late and were never the amount negotiated under the treaty. Supplies and food rations that were part of annuity payments were often appropriated by Indian agents and resold for higher prices.

The tragedy at Gaa-mitaawangaagamaag (Sandy Lake) exemplifies the socio-economic inequity of annuity payments. In the fall of 1850, nineteen Anishinaabeg bands from Wisconsin journeyed to Gaa-mitaawangaagamaag for annual annuity payments and supplies. The annuity payments and supplies were late and the people had to wait until early December before they received limited sums of money and available supplies. Trying to survive on spoiled and inadequate government rations while waiting for the annuities, 150 Anishinaabeg people died from dysentery and measles at Gaa-mitaawangaagamaag. Two-hundred and fifty more, mostly women children and elders, died on their way back home to Wisconsin. This is but one example of the economic inequity that has been part of the indigenous experience in the United States.

One of the things that the Occupy Wall Street organizers have repeatedly stated is that the inspiration for their protest is the Arab Spring movement. If this is the case, one may ask how did the indigenous peoples of the Middle East fare from the Arab Spring?

On September, Daniel Gabriel, the SUA Human Rights and UN NGO Director, stated: “While the media focuses all its energy on the Palestinian search for Statehood and the ‘Arab Spring’, it is the reduced indigenous populations of the Middle East who continue to lose out. Time and time again, the world demands justice, democracy and freedom in the Middle East, but it fails in its obligation to demand the same for the minority groups like the Arameans. Today we barely survive in our homeland. But tomorrow we may silently vanish from existence. The SUA pleads with the global bodies such as the United Nations and the world community and media to prevent this imminent tragedy from happening.”

If the Arab Spring didn’t flourish for indigenous peoples in the Middle East, how can we expect it to flourish here? Continue reading

An Open Letter From Two White Men to #OCCUPYWALLSTREET

by Anonymous Guest Contributors

Occupy Wall Street

We—two white men—write this letter conscious of the fact that the color of our skin means we will likely be taken more seriously. We write this knowing that because people of color are thought to be too biased to speak objectively on issues of race, our perspective in this context will be privileged. We write this aware of the history of colonization, genocide, and slavery upon which this country stands, which has created this oppressive reality.

We write this letter to the organizers and participants (ourselves included) of #OccupyWallStreet out of great love for humanity and for the collective struggles being waged to save it. We write this letter because of our support for this nascent movement, in the hopes that with some self-reflection and adjustment, it may come to truly represent “the 99%” and realize its full potential.

#OccupyWallStreet has shown itself to be a potent force. The movement—which we consider ourselves part of—has already won great victories. New occupations spring up across the continent every day, and the movement for true democracy and radical social change is gathering steam worldwide.

According to the main websites associated with #OccupyWallStreet, it is “one people, united,” a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions,” and an “open, participatory and horizontally organized process.” In other words, it professes to be the universal protest against the greed and corruption rampant in our society, open for anyone to join and shape.

But a quick survey of the movement so far shows that that the good intentions outlined do not reflect the reality of the situation. Continue reading

Tottenham 1985-2011: Through the Fire

by Guest Contributor Nichole Black, originally published at On Race and Resistance

London Riots

On Saturday evening 6th of August I was gathered with friends in Peckham, South London celebrating the opportunities and doors open to us. One friend travelling to China for a year, my scholarship for a masters degree, another friend rising in influence in the community. All of us young Black people having grown up in the inner city on Estates and council properties. Graduates with narratives that disturb the monolithic perspective of Black youth identity. But not disconnected from our own context and committed to our community it was with grief, sympathy and solidarity that we turned toward Tottenham, by then, ablaze with anger and burning out brick and mortar. This morning – through the soot and smoke filter – the socio-economic barriers remained.

Numerous stories have emerged but there is no verified account of what turned a peaceful protest into a riot that would endanger lives and ruin local businesses and services. Earlier that afternoon members of the community in Tottenham gathered to demand answers from the metropolitan police, who on Thursday 4th August stopped 29 year old Mark Duggan in a Mini Cab and engaged in a shoot out that resulted in his death. Duggan, father of four, had allegedly been in possession of firearms. This is another of at least three accounts of Black men’s deaths during police operations this year alone. It has only been five months since over a thousand people gathered to protest the suspicious death of Smiley Culture whilst the police were at his home.

Last night’s riots in Tottenham come exactly twenty-five years after the infamous Broadwater Farm riots in the same part of London. Not vastly dissimilar from recent events, Cynthia Jarret died whilst the police conducted a search of her home. Just the week before that Dorothy Groce was shot by police instigating the 1985 Brixton Uprisings. When community members gathered at the police station tensions rose and the peaceful protest in Tottenham erupted into riot. The violence escalated and policeman Keith Blakelock was killed. (The intricacies of this case are harrowing and worth reading).


If we are shocked at what is going on in Tottenham we have failed to trace history & the relationship between authorities & poor & BME. – @HanaRiaz

A quarter of a century on we are asking if police-community relations in Tottenham are any better. That is only for the residents of that area to say but it is evident that they are still not good enough when police accounts are understandably met with such distrust. As we face-off with the returned ugliness of the 80s British conservatism and increasing hostility, conditions are being set for a ‘police army state’. Continue reading

Welcome to East Willy B! [Culturelicious]

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

Sometimes there’s love in laughter. And the cast and crew bringing the new web series East Willy B have a lot of love for the real-life neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn, and (most) of the fictional characters.

The series’ heart is Willie Reyes, Jr. (Flaco Navaja) the 30-something Puerto Rican-proud bar owner who inherited the business from his dad, including the barfly crushing on him, Giselle (Caridad “La Bruja” de la Cruz). Wille is trying to keep his bar, which has served as the nabe’s hangout and nerve center, from closing down due gentrification in the form of his ex-girlfriend Maggie (April Hernandez) and her new white beau (and Willie’s longtime rival), Albert (Danny Hoch), and the incoming white hipsters looking for cheap(er) rent.

Transcript of the premiere episode after the jump.

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