(for Alton)

rage is all there is
in this suffocating tide
the words come hard
there’s no flow tonight
no right thing to say
nothing to reverse the bullets
reverse the hate
erase the years
bodies destroyed; stripped
no home, no rest
no place to be
too many names, in the undertow of tears
in the dark
where no light can be trusted

Justin Timberlake just showed us the most dangerous racism there is.

Jesse Williams gave a speech at the BET Awards while accepting recognition as Humanitarian of the Year. It was a speech that was powerful and maddening in its mix of desperation and hopefulness, resilience and resolve.

If you haven’t watched it. Stop and do it now:

BET Awards: Jesse Williams Spits Knowledge Like a Seasoned MC

The speech is a lot of things, but provocative is a word that keeps popping into my head. It brought a tear to my eye seeing the proud tears in his mother’s eyes and the hopeful wonderment in the faces in the crowd.

Justin Timberlake was also inspired by the speech. So inspired he jumped on Twitter, with this:

Screenshot 2016-06-27 11.45.28

Now, at first read, at face value, from my white guy perspective, I wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with this. I was inspired too. JT is just expressing what I’m feeling also.

But then responses to it started coming in from black folks who took issue with JT’s long history of appropriation of their culture.

Such as this one from @chrystallll:

Screenshot 2016-06-27 12.00.55

@MrErnestOwens said this:

Screenshot 2016-06-27 11.53.56It was this one that actually drew a response from the Mouseketeer.

JT’s reply:

Screenshot 2016-06-27 12.08.03

Let’s break it down.

This is a powerful white man talking to a black man on Twitter. Ernest Owens happens to be an award-winning journalist, but I’d bet all the money in my pockets JT didn’t know or care who he was talking to.

“Oh, you sweet soul.” JT started off his tweet by firmly asserting the hierarchy between them. JT gets to judge and dismiss Ernest. That’s the epitome of implicit bias.

“The more you realize we are the same” We. Are. The. Same. This is no different than “All Lives Matter” in that it comes from the same place of white people deciding the narrative instead of listening to what’s being said by people of color about their experience. Justin Timberlake is no more “the same” to black people than a lion is to a gazelle.

“…the more we can have a conversation.” Yet again he asserts his supremacy by dictating the terms of conversation. Essentially, he’s saying, “I’m not going to talk to you unless you agree with me.”

“Bye.” If it wasn’t absolutely clear that JT was using his privilege to shield himself from an acknowledgment of his own racism and implicit bias, the dangerously casual “Bye.” should be all the proof you need. He gets to decide when the conversation is over and that’s that. Even while people die because of that very attitude, he can and will choose to ignore it, and shut people off who challenge his supremacy or his delusion that he’s not racist.

Eventually, in another move to control the narrative, he deleted everything and then tweeted out a couple more things:

Screenshot 2016-06-27 12.33.03

“I feel misunderstood.” This makes it clear that he’s not about to own up to anything that he’s done or said. He’s literally projecting it back onto the people calling him out by telling them that they are wrong.

“I responded to a specific tweet that wasn’t meant to be a general response.” Two ways this breaks down: Maybe he’s new to Twitter, and doesn’t have any idea how it works, so he doesn’t know that everybody can see everything he posts and nothing is just a response to a specific tweet but open to public consumption and accountability…or… he just found a clever way to dismiss everyone and tell them to butt out, basically saying, “I wasn’t even talking to you, so mind your own business.”

Screenshot 2016-06-27 12.33.12

“I forget this forum sometimes…” Twitter is the problem, not JT’s words and actions.

“All one…A human race” All Lives Matter

In my estimation, Justin Timberlake is the worst kind of white person, because not only does he exhibit classic implicit bias, but uses his own power to protect himself from critique and does absolutely nothing to shine a light on injustice. We have elected officials at every level who do this, and it’s not just a few, it’s the norm. If you live in America, your city council is probably made up of a majority of people like this.

Timberlake goes even further, by appropriating and putting on a show of celebrating a culture while at the same time being a leader within a corporate system that is destroying it. This Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing racism is far more destructive systemically than what we see from a lot of outwardly racist conservatives. They won’t call you racist names, but you’re not getting that job if your name is DeShawn or Imani instead of Connor or Molly. Your local city government might be 100% white males at the department head and above level, but tell you that they just choose the most qualified applicant, so it’s not their fault.

If Justin Timberlake loves black culture as much as he professes – if he truly loves it – he’ll stop the whitewashing and the excuses and he’ll stop shirking his responsibility as a white man in a position of power to be a wedge. He can, with his money, power, and respect, open the door to people of color and give them opportunities to lead, to have their voices heard.

He’ll have to  sit down and shut up first though.

How to be a White Ally in the Racial Justice Movement

Last night I watched a livestream discussion that focused primarily on how to be a white ally in the racial justice movement. A couple intrusive thoughts lingering with me today:

1. Don’t ask black folks how you can be a good ally. Find a white mentor who’s been doing the work. You can’t understand the perspective of a black person’s experience (I don’t care what neighborhood you grew up in).

2. Include trans folks in this movement RIGHT NOW. And Always. And everybody.

3. We waste too much time arguing about strategy instead of organizing in our communities. A broad range of tactics mean a strong movement that has something for everyone.

#4. Oppression affects everyone differently. We need to be able to talk about ending black oppression separately from indigenous, trans, etc. – they do overlap in some cases, but primarily have been constructed in very different ways, and will require different methods to dismantle.

Hypocrisy. Whiteness. Power. Justice.

“Ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it.” – James Baldwin

I keep thinking about this double standard we operate within where when we send violence out into the world, it’s war, and it’s official, righteous, and just – but when our enemies send violence to us it’s terrorism, and it’s criminal and evil. Our wars are waged to defend our way of life – they tell us it’s freedom, but really it’s so that the rich and powerful – who are almost always white men – can stay that way.

This hypocrisy is universally applied on both foreign and domestic fronts. Our response to domestic uprisings and attempts by the people to engage and take the power back, are labeled by the establishment and it’s media as fundamental threats to our way of life. On the local level it plays out the same way. A homeless encampment set up in protest of prejudiced and classist laws, is “a poke in the eye” – the laws however, are about “public safety” and “making Olympia a better place to live” (for the comfortable middle class white majority) despite the direct danger they place many vulnerable citizens in. The media then takes up that mantle, and runs editorials villainizing the engaged citizens. This is leads to an atmosphere where certain citizens are considered “less than” and clears room for hate crimes to happen. This isn’t hyperbolic, this is literal.

On a national level it’s scaled up, but similar tactics are used to suppress dissent. The difference between the response to the KKK and the Black Panther Party is a perfect example. The KKK are attributed with almost 3500 lynchings alone, who knows how many other deaths, or unsolved disappearances you can add to that. On the other hand, you can’t find any data that shows the Black Panther Party were murderous thugs. There was some violence associated with them, no doubt. But not mass murder. Yet they’re the group that’s been labeled by history to be violent, radical, terrorists.

The KKK is an organization that has existed in various forms, and has always fought and murdered in order to uphold the white supremacist power structure in our country. The KKK continues to exist (splintered as it may be), continues to elect politicians into state, federal, and local office, and a blind eye is turned to their violent activities.

The BPP’s goal was to dismantle that power structure – not through violence, but through community engagement – voting, self-reliance, organizing, etc. Being a threat to the white supremacist establishment, they were labeled domestic terrorists, and were systematically jailed, murdered, and otherwise squashed by the FBI, acting as guardians of whiteness.

I’m not sure there’s a clear path forward. Vote for DeRay Mckessen if you live in Baltimore. Vote for candidates in your city who say Black Lives Matter. Ask them about it. Make sure they know WHY they’re saying it. Don’t let the mushy moderate political system kick the can down the road.

Happy Sunday Everybody!

Fit The Description By Hashim Warren

No matter how many times Hashim Warren changes his appearance he still fits the description of ‘black man in America’ – and is treated accordingly.

When I was young I fit the description. And last week on Thursday at 1:30PM I fit the description.

I’ve had a bald head, dreads, cornrows, and an afro. No matter how I change my hair, I always fit the description.

I’ve been dressed for work, dressed for church, and dressed to hang out and I still fit the description.

I’ve weighed a lot. And weighed less. I’ve lived in an apartment and a home. I’ve been single and married. I’ve been a disciple of Christ and an atheist.

No matter what I do. What I believe. Where I go. How much I make. What I give. How I change. How I serve.

To the police I always fit the description. I’m always a suspect.


We’re All Racist and It’s Not OK

“Disabled People”

Most of my career as an advocate for people who are homeless, low-income, disabled, etc., I’ve been taught to do what I did in this sentence when referring to people in conversation. Use “people first” language. It’s the idea that you recognize a person’s humanity first, and their condition second. Rhonda is not a “homeless person” – it’s not like having red hair, it’s not a naturally occurring part of the human condition – she is a person, who is without a home at the moment. So you would say “Rhonda is a person who is homeless” instead of “Rhonda is a homeless person.”

Through my studies in the realm of urban planning, I’ve looked at spacial relationships in neighborhoods and developed a subconscious way of looking at the built environment where I consider accessibility, and a myriad of other factors, when I’m walking down a sidewalk. Generally, my approach is to discern whether a space is inviting and welcoming for anybody that might want to use it, and to figure out how to upgrade that space to make it more open to the community.

I’m Not A “Person With a Disability”: I’m a Disabled Person

I recently came upon this article and it immediately struck me because it challenged that People First philosophy I’d been indoctrinated in. The author, Lisa Egan, a disability rights activist, states, “I am disabled. More specifically, I am disabled by a society that places social, attitudinal and architectural barriers in my way.”

I find this fascinating not because it’s a semantic challenge to the way I’ve been taught to refer to people, in fact the article didn’t convince me at all to stop using people first language. The thing that got me thinking was the idea presented by Lisa that society has disabled her by not being considerate of people with mobility impairments.

In Downtown Olympia, WA we have some of the worst sidewalks I’ve seen in a downtown area. With the exception of sections around newer developments, you can’t continuously travel down any block without coming upon cracks or buckles in the sidewalk, not to mention street trees, parking meters, store signs, displays etc. All creating an obstacle course for an individual in a wheelchair. Try to imagine how that must feel to a person. I imagine it feels frustrating, at the very least, to have to navigate through that or travel far out of your way to get to your destination. It also must feel like you’ve been forgotten by the local government that hasn’t made it a priority to ensure that you can travel conveniently and safely through your own city. Add to this the fact that our cities don’t really budget for sidewalk improvements, but just kind of passively wait for developments or scheduled maintenance of other utilities to trigger upgrades. Thus we have decades old streets and sidewalks, all patched together over the years. It looks like nobody cares, and to a person with a mobility impairment, it probably feels that way also.

On Labels

Anytime I hear a label placed on someone, it gives me pause. I always wonder, “why is it important to apply that label?” What purpose does that label serve?

“I saw this black guy….”

If the end of that sentence is, “…juggling in the park.” Then I have to wonder, why is the fact that the man was black important or relevant to the fact that you saw someone juggling?

Lisa’s article got me thinking more and more about the labels we use and the impact they have on people. It got me thinking about the way labels have evolved over the years. We say “people of color” today, but that’s just an evolved way of referring to black people that started with the word nigger. “People of color” itself is a direct derivative of “colored people” a term that is today considered offensive. Am I being overly idealistic if I express that I long for the day when we can eliminate casual references to skin color when we refer to one another? I understand the need to collect data and that collecting demographic information from people can lead to better and more efficient services being provided and money being allocated to the areas of greatest need. So I get the need to create categories for that purpose. But why do we keep doing it in everyday conversation?

When I started thinking about it in terms of race, knowing that race is a construct invented and used to divide people and especially to differentiate them from people of power a.k.a. rich whites, and knowing the way people of color are treated in our society, I started thinking about the point Egan made about society disabling her. We switched from colored person to person of color, but isn’t that the same as what Egan is saying about disability? Both of them switch the burden to the person and away from the system. Race is an arbitrary societal construct used to marginalize and oppress, created by people in positions of power. People aren’t “of color” – they were colored – by a society and a culture that wanted to separate and divide people. Just as society disables Lisa Egan by not providing her and others with mobility issues the means to live the same quality-of-life as anybody else, we stifle black folks too. We’ve prevented them from achieving the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that we hold so dear by assigning them an inferior designation. From the beginning, we called them savages and treated them like animals and created a mystique that prevails to this day – yesterday’s savage is today’s thug. This is why white America can watch black people being killed by police, or live in third world conditions in our inner cities and still sleep like babies at night. If as a society, we really did believe that we’re all equal, we would have ended this madness long ago.

We’ve Got To Stop It

In 1957, when we were all living in a white wonderland and everything was Leave It To Beaveriffic, we used to physically prevent black people from using portions of the built environment. That became gauche – but only because enough people were beaten and/or killed on TV that blatant, overt manifestations of white supremacy couldn’t be ignored anymore by politicians, clergy, and by the moderate whites who joined the struggle out of sympathy. Some rights were eventually secured, and we’re better off for it, no doubt. But sympathy isn’t equality. Sympathy is a hierarchical device. While we as a nation rallied around the civil rights movement, we never broke the separation, both spiritual and physical, that the construct of race instilled in our culture. Today, we like to think we’ve progressed as a society and have started to transcend race, and I think we’re deluded. How can we read the news everyday of police brutality, rampant drugs, poverty and violence in black neighborhoods, combined with little to no opportunity for upward mobility, aka The American Dream, and then turn around and talk about progress in a way that makes it seem like we’ve almost got this problem solved?

We have a lot of work to do as a society. Step one: admit there is a problem. I’m not talking about segregation, income inequality, police brutality, the new Jim Crow, or any one specific issue. The problem we have and need to fess up to is that every single white person, whether we like it or not, perpetuates racism and white supremacy through prejudice and implicit bias that has been transmitted over generations. Some of us are confederate flag waving racists who are proud of it and wear it like a badge of honor. Most of us see those people and write them off as relics, and proffer an ‘ignore them and they’ll go away’ approach of dealing with them. Well we can’t ignore it anymore. Every single white person who claims to be at all liberated should be there to shout them down. Yet we don’t show up. We don’t show up any time racism rears its head, and especially in its more surreptitious manifestations. The racist joke, the hate crime, the hiring panel – we remain silent, because it’s easy, because nobody expects otherwise.

I think people choose to ignore it out of fear. We’re terrified of what we might find inside of ourselves if we look too hard at racism and our society. There is a darkness there that we continue to swallow because it’s too painful to let it out. There is shame, guilt, and complicity – so we deny, deny, deny. We want to think of ourselves as above it, as better people than that, as somehow separated from the problem. We’re not above it. We ARE the problem. We allow it to happen. The deaths, the imprisonment, the poverty, all of it. That’s on us.