by Jasmine Banks
My friend Kelly mentioned on Facebook she was headed to the Ferguson Municipal Library to help them process some donations they’d received. I quickly Googled the distance and upon seeing it was a five-hour drive, I volunteered to help.
I didn’t feel prepared because I didn’t know how to prepare to enter into a space that has been so charged by both hate and hope. How do you prepare for the starkest parts of the reality of our humanity to be reflected back at you? Reading that line back feels trite or an attempt to be poetic, but it isn’t.
The aftermath of Ferguson is a testimony. You can see both hate and hope scrawled in spray paint on damaged and demolished buildings. Ferguson, and other places that have experienced similar unrest and upheaval, bring the covert out of hiding and make it overt.
Continue reading this post at JustJasmineBlog.com.
Jasmine is a freelance writer with a B.S. in psychology and an M.A. in community counseling who writes about everything and nothing at all. You can follow her on Twitter as @Djazzo
The veteran Civil Rights leader, survivor of a concussion and beating from Alabama State Troopers on Bloody Sunday, asks in a new essay: “If Bloody Sunday took place in Ferguson today, would Americans be shocked enough to do anything about it?”
Lewis, winner of an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his memoir “Walking With the Wind,” sees the recent police killings of unarmed black people as representing “a glimpse of a different America most Americans have found it inconvenient to confront.”
Writing in the Atlantic, Lewis’ words are tinged with weariness. In his essay, he draws on a 1967 speech by Martin Luther King Jr., in which King tells of the “other America,” one in which justice doesn’t come easy, if at all. Black Americans have been continually “swept up like rubbish by the hard, unforgiving hand of the law,” the Georgia Congressman writes.
“Ever since black men first came to these shores we have been targets of wanton aggression,” writes Lewis, 79. “We have been maimed, drugged, lynched, burned, jailed, enslaved, chained, disfigured, dismembered, drowned, shot, and killed. As a black man, I have to ask why. What is it that drives this carnage? Is it fear? Fear of what? Why is this nation still so willing to suspend the compassion it gives freely to others when the victims are men who are black or brown?”
Lewis is still marching toward a society where African-Americans might enjoy equal protection under the law: “One recent study reports that one black man is killed by police or vigilantes in our country every 28 hours, almost one a day. Doesn’t that bother you?”
Read the full post at The Atlantic.
Two elders of the American Civil Rights movement—Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr. and Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell—went before a sold-out Cleveland crowd to consider “the unfinished business of race,” a topic heightened by the November police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old playing with a toy gun in a city park.
“Tamir Rice was our child, Cleveland’s child, God’s child,” Moss said at the City Club of Cleveland, “and every parent should feel the loss.”
Dr. Rhonda Williams, director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University, came directly to her point: “How do we dismantle white privilege?”
Moss, 79, who counseled U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said the movement makes the most progress when its steps are deliberate. He listed, in order: research, education, mobilization, presentation of findings, negotiation, demonstration.
“The demonstration is not a means to itself but designed to bring about something higher,” said Moss, who served on the inner circle of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Whenever we followed the formula, we won. When we did not, we often lost.”
The former senior pastor of Cleveland’s landmark Olivet Institutional Baptist Church cautioned, “We cannot be filled with so much bitterness that our actions are taken as illogical.”
For her part, Campbell, 82, spoke directly to white privilege. She stressed that meaningful racial discussions must be honest, something she and Moss modeled at the City Club, drawing on long decades of friendship. She described professor John Hope Franklin at the Clinton White House calling on whites to be honest about the advantage they enjoy every morning, walking out of their homes free of suspicion simply because of their race.
“Otis Moss, you walk out knowing how the color of your skin makes a difference in how your day will go,” Campbell said, “even though you are Otis Moss in a town that loves you.”
Moss and Campbell told several stories apiece about victories and struggles waged a half century ago, often evoking King’s name. Throughout the room, there were tables of high school and college students, and a sense of generational change.
“Often we demean young people for going out without our approval, after we did the same thing in our time,” Moss said. Asked by a retired school teacher what to do about youth ignorance of history, Moss answered, “Adults don’t know their history either. People read history with their prejudices, not their minds.”
Jerome Mills, a senior at Shaw High School in East Cleveland, asked a question much on the audience’s mind: “How can we create change and protect ourselves in today’s world?” The African-American teen stood listening for an answer.
“Be the best you can be,” said Moss, who carries a copy of the Bible and the U.S. Constitution in his brief case wherever he goes. “Whatever you do, do it so well that no one dead, no one living and no one unborn could do it as well. When you become excellent, you become a leader. In your time and in your space, you can make a difference—at Shaw High School, in your community, in your living room and especially in the library.”
Moss held up Atlanta as an example of a city “willing to come to grips with race and racism there,” insisting, “justice is profitable; oppression is expensive,” an echo of the teaching of W.E.B. DuBois.
“In Ferguson, the dead person was put on trial and the living person, the police officer, was defended by the prosecutor,” Moss said, stressing that expecting victims of police violence to have led perfect lives is another form of racism.
Margaret Mitchell, who leads the YWCA Greater Cleveland, announced her organization’s arrangement of “It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race” February 23 at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland. She invited listeners to join, contribute, and perhaps become a racial justice facilitator for the day.
“It’s time for action, Cleveland,” Mitchell said, “on the unfinished business of race.”
It took three attempts before I could get past the first entry in Patient, an uncomfortable jaunt into America’s crippling disregard of black bodies. It is raw.
In this collection of 53 poems, Bettina Judd excoriates two famous men — Dr. J. Marion Sims, long considered the father of modern gynecology, and circus showman P.T. Barnum — for their exploitation of enslaved women in furthering their careers. The poet, a professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at the College of William and Mary, investigates this trauma and somehow coaxes dignity from a horrific past.
Dr. Sims arrived at an Alabama plantation in the mid-1840s to assist an enslaved woman in a stalled, three-day labor. He used his discoveries in that delivery to refine his medical knowledge. Over five years, Sims performed dozens of operations and procedures on enslaved women, all without anesthesia or consent. Yet the first statue erected in the U.S. to commemorate a physician depicted Sims, according to the American College of Gynecology’s journal Clinical Review.
But little is known of the women he used as subjects. Here, Judd offers three of them a platform, giving voice to their pain and erasure from history. A taste of their journey, from the poem “Betsey Invents The Speculum”:
I have bent in other ways
to open the body make space
More pliable than pewter,
my skin may be less giving
Great discoveries are made
on cushioned lessons and hard falls
Sims invents the speculum
I invent the wincing
the if you must of it
the looking away
the here of discovery
A fourth voice of Patient belongs to Joice Heth, a blind enslaved woman put on exhibition by Barnum in 1835 during his first foray as a showman. Billed as an 160-year-old former “mammy” to President George Washington, Heth was a huge draw, allowing Barnum to pocket more than $1,000 a week. When she died, Barnum held a public autopsy to prove her age, charging spectators 50 cents to watch. Judd masterfully gives Joice the megaphone in “Joice Heth Presents: Herself,” as she booms through her own death:
AND FOR MY LAST TRICK
I WILL RELEASE THE GHOST
Hover over my corpse
A nameless modern voice floats in this collection, representing the plight of African-American women like Esmin Green, who died on the floor of a New York City emergency room in 2008. She laid motionless on the floor for 30 minutes before anyone came to take her pulse. Judd notes the importance of how distinctly the past informs the present.
Marinated in pain and sacrifice, Judd’s work is evocative, even as it is hard to stomach at times. Readers who gird themselves will be quite moved by the art they find.
One consequence of Ferguson: viewers can now watch the documentary “White Like Me” cost-free.
Tim Wise’s anti-racism documentary will stream free online for a few weeks. The Media Education Foundation, which produced the movie, chose the promo code “blacklivesmatter” for viewers to redeem.
Wise, 46, raised more than $41,000 on Kickstarter for the movie, which adapts his 2005 memoir, “White Like Me: Reflections On Race From A Privileged Son.” The 2013 film features insights from Princeton University’s Imani Perry; Michelle Alexander, author of 2012’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”; and Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree.
A brisk 68 minutes, “White Like Me” is a forceful, persuasion piece, designed to explain the basics of white privilege, racial bias and systematic discrimination to viewers who haven’t considered America’s legacy of white supremacy.
“Racial bias still effects the way we view others,” Wise says in the opening sequence. “And when we fail to recognize that, we not only continue to do an injustice to people of color, we end up doing damage to white folks as well.”
The film focuses almost entirely on the 20th century. A good chunk of the narrative is framed around sweeping social programs of the 1930s and 1940s—including the G.I. Bill and the creation of the Federal Housing Administration—which almost exclusively benefited white people, as Ta-Nehisi Coates demonstrated in his landmark piece in the Atlantic Monthly published earlier this year.
Such historical content is buttressed by the “post-racial” language thrown around after President Barack Obama’s first election and the rise of the often incendiary Tea Party.
Perhaps a few members will find their way to this compelling feature. Likewise, in classrooms, Wise’s frank work as the potential to open a few eyes.
Watch “White Like Me” for free, with the code “blacklivesmatter.”