Category Archives: race

Martin Luther King: Bernie Sanders, Killer Mike, Nina Turner and Cornel West

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and it is a good day to think about the work necessary to bring about justice.

I believe that Bernie Sanders is sincere. His campaign releases this video on the eve of Martin Luther King day.   A few quick observations:

  1.  The lack of editing is a signal of this video’s credibility.  Note that this is a single take . . . no edits, no cuts to remove something that would hurt a political campaign.  This starts with microphone checks and becomes a rigorous conversation between four intellectuals.   After they are done, Dr. Cornel West yells: “Whooo hoo . . . that was rich!”  I agree.
  2.  Shortly after the 20 minute mark Killer Mike begins to pitch the Bernie Sanders campaign to black nationalists.  Malcolm X gets a shout out by Senator Turner!  A minute later Mike points out that Sanders is comfortable in tough conversations with people of color.  Sanders brushes off the compliment and returns to the message.
  3. “Titles are good, purpose is better.” Senator Nina Turner makes the argument to use your access. (6:30)
  4. West’s anger toward Obama is palpable.   And Senator Turner’s experience with Hillary Clinton is interesting at the 42 minute mark.
  5. At the 17 minute mark Bernie Sanders talks about his early civil rights organizing experience in Chicago.  Particularly he notes that the northern liberal university (University of Chicago) ran segregated student housing — which necessitated a sit in.  He talks about his experience organizing with CORE and mentions fighting segregated schools.
  6. I also like the sincere emotion that comes through.  Senator Turner who says that Sanders made her heart leap.  The compliments, the gentle physical contact . . .all point to a great series of relationships.

It’s a good and interesting video.  Also an artifact worth consideration in the field of presidential rhetoric.  Contrast this to most pandering politicians.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, human rights, intersectionality, memorial, protest, race, representation

Obama pardons Valerie Bozeman: drug war reflections

Kyle Swenson has an excellent write up on Valerie Bozeman in the Broward Palm Beach New Times.  Bozeman was convicted of drug charges and received federal mandatory minimum penalties.  She was pardoned from her life sentence by President Obama after 23 years in prison.  This is an excellent read complete with a sympathetic protagonist, grimy drug kingpins, incompetent defense attorneys and a guilty judge.

Swenson does a good job explaining how low-level offenders were getting astounding sentences.

But as anxiety over crack grew, the statute was hijacked. The use of “851 enhancements,” as they came to be called, became a huge prosecutorial hammer. The marching orders for federal prosecutors were for no mercy.

In 1989, then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh ordered U.S. attorneys to “charge the most serious, readily provable offense.” Victory in the courtroom was “measured by the length of sentence you could get if you secured that prosecution,” explains Price. So 851 enhancements — which could trigger a life sentence if an individual had two prior felony convictions — became an easy way for the government to notch a heavy win.

“It was a time when we turned our backs on rehabilitation and support, and our criminal justice system and sentencing law became much more punitive,” Price says. “We were locking up people who we didn’t like and were afraid of. But we were also locking up a lot of people who really didn’t deserve the lengthy sentences we were doling out.”

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Bozeman got a life sentence and learned about the 851 (mandatory minimum) penalties that sent her to prison only years later.  Note that the ‘old timers’ — the prisoners who are sentenced to life became a legal research unit under the direction of Bozeman.

In between chores, Bozeman shot off urgent letters to court-appointed lawyers, like SOS messages stuffed in bottles and pitched into the ocean. Most were ignored. Eventually, she received a letter from Judge Ungaro patiently explaining that Bozeman had been sentenced to life because of a statute known at “851 enhancement.”

With that phrase in her mind, she began visiting the prison law library, where she finally began to unlock what exactly had happened to her.

Soon, Bozeman called together the old-timers. Bozeman had a one-question pop quiz. “Do you know why you got a life sentence?”

Blank looks bounced back at her. One by one, Bozeman sent the women to their cells for their sentencing paperwork. Together they bushwhacked through the legalese until they found it: 851. “The ladies didn’t understand why they were sitting there with a life sentence,” she says today. “They just didn’t know.”

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

The essay is also ripe with some terrifying statistics about the drug war and incarceration.  In particular the use of the federal 851 statute (mandatory minimums) to coerce suspects to admit guilt.

Between 1980 and 2013, the number of drug defendants incarcerated in federal custody had exploded from 4,749 to 100,026 — a 2,006 percent uptick. Fifty percent of all federal inmates were serving time on drug charges.

Not only did mandatory minimums put small-time dealers in prison for long periods but 851 enhancements also had another harsh effect. Because the decision to file rested solely with the prosecution, it could be used as a threat: If you go to trial, we’ll file an enhancement.

A study by Human Rights Watch showed that in 2012, “the average sentence of federal drug offenders convicted after trial was three times higher (16 years) than that received after a guilty plea (5 years and 4 months).” When sentencing enhancements were in play for defendants with prior convictions, defendants “who went to trial were 8.4 times more likely to have the enhancement applied” than those who pleaded guilty.

New York Federal District Judge John Gleeson noted that use of 851s had gotten out of control. He wrote in an October 2013 decision that they brought on “the sentencing equivalent of a two-by-four to the forehead.” As a result, so many people chose to plead guilty rather than take chances at trial that a federal criminal trial was “on the endangered species list,” he said. “The government’s use of [851 enhancements] coerces guilty pleas and produces sentences so excessively severe they take your breath away.”

Proof was in the data: In 1980, only 69 percent of defendants in federal drug cases pleaded guilty and took plea deals; by 2010, 97 percent did.

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

This essay is a worthwhile read and a thoughtful reflection on the drug war.  Thanks to Longreads for the suggestion.

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Filed under capitalism, class, do-it-yourself, drugs, human rights, prisons, punishment, race, representation, resistance

Sandra Bland and police killing

It feels indulgent to write about anything other than the murder of Sandra Bland at the hands of police officers.   I don’t have much to add to the sad and terrified discourse surrounding the Bland killing.

But it gets you thinking about how a human being like Texas officer Brian Encinia becomes so brutally callous as to cry “good” when the suspect he is slamming to the ground declares that she has epilepsy.

Or how a young activist headed to a new job in a new place might run afoul of the police system she had critiqued.

Edited video, officer suspended, suspicious death in the jail.  These things should enrage you and be motivation for culture change which is deeply necessary.   Watch the traffic stop video if you can:

Rest In Power Sandra Bland.

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Filed under human rights, memorial, police, punishment, race, representation, sexism, Surveillance

Defection from white supremacy

What does it look like when white people defect from the traditions of white supremacy?  It probably looks (and sounds) like South Carolina Representative Jenny Horne talking about removing the confederate flag from the South Carolina state house.

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Filed under communication, human rights, kindness, memorial, race, representation, resistance, vulnerability

Killer Mike gets some time to talk

Tavis Smiley invites Killer Mike for two sincere discussions on PBS.  Killer Mike does not pull any punches and the topics are legit.  Righteous, respectful and thoughtful.   I can’t figure out how to embed, but these are both worth watching.

http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365520459

http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365520563

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“That comfort that you are experiencing is destroying our country!”

Welcome to W. Honky territory.  I just discovered his videos and appreciated his accusatory tone and  salty authenticity.  Turns out he has a youtube channel with his rural truck-cam post-work pov videos.

It took three videos from W. Honky before I ran into this nice gem where he calls upon white Americans to acknowledge the benefits they get from white supremacy.  Specifically he calls upon white people to film themselves articulating their understandings of white privilege.  “To get white people to take some responsibility.”

Honky is light on intersectional analysis.  Consideration of ability, sex and nationality in relationship to race sort of enter in the late part of the video.  Thinking about all layers of oppression at the get-go, what Mari Matsuda calls: “ask the other question,” foregrounding multiple frames of identity at the same time might help support Honky’s key suggestions of accountability and public dialogue.

And of course, given that the key problem is white supremacy might one try to privilege non-white speakers?  Many other persuasive people of color have made almost the same arguments and yet not had the same traction as W. Honky.  We might note that those who are most deeply to benefit from white supremacy may not be listening to thoughtful women of color, but they might listen to W. Honky.

People like Honky (and myself) benefit from white skin privilege, which means access.  A good example of W. Honky’s articulation of what to do about white privilege is his piece on the Bass Pro Shop (boycott).

It is an interesting arc and you come to wonder about the creator (Jorge Moran).  I have a suspicion that this is a character, a performance. Even if it is, I’m impressed with the quality of the arguments, the passion and the realness.  More is the accessibility – I would like to drink a beer with this guy and talk about race.  He seems honest about power and at the same time ready to think slightly out-of-the-box about class, race and identity in general.  He seems like the kind of guy I’d like on my team.

Y’know?

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Filed under class, communication, critique, learning, race

Thinking about racist fraternities who love Waka Flocka Flame

Yesterday the noxious video of Oklahoma frat guys chanting racist stuff on a bus hit the interwebs.  The chant not only bragged about preventing “niggers” from joining the fraternity, but also threatened lynching.

The fraternity was dismantled and student members told to move out of their house (and two members were kicked out of school).  I think it is worth thinking about this moment in time not only for the accountability for racist insults (which I support) but also the redemptive narratives of those-kids-weren’t-that-bad (which I think is worth examination).

One redemption thread was that the closure of the house was going to mean that the long-time chef of the fraternity house Howard Dixon would lose his job.  Fundraisers quickly raised tens of thousands of dollars for Mr. Dixon.  In addition to brightening the reputation of the fraternity members, this also points toward the nasty preference to imagine that a ‘few bad apples’ are what spoiled the bunch.

Having attended several fraternity-rich universities, my take is that the whole system is a nostalgic white supremacist dream.  To select your friends and cloister is an invitation for toxic entitlement to blossom.   (Thinkprogress has some good context for this particular fraternity.)

My initial thought about SAE was that the interwebs were enraged because this example is such old-school bigotry that its an easy critique.  The language about gamergate or sexualized violence at college campuses seldom gets this kind of swift action.  I think we doth protest too much.   It’s easy to point as SAE as racists while ignoring larger structural injustices.

Waka Flocka Flame, an unlikely political advocate, rushed in with a quick cancellation of a show.  Initially I was wondering how many of the racist chanting frat guys on the bus ALSO had tickets to go see Waka Flocka Flame?   Quite a few it turns out.

Racism doesn’t mean that you aren’t into black culture or hip hop.  The poisonous element of this racist chant was the proud exclusionary bragging of a (mostly white) frat in keeping out black people.   Checking in with the Reddit thread on this discussion, a number of people made the same observations.  That they had known white-identified people who were into rap music and also prejudiced.   As one commenter put it: “It’s sad… they can be performers, servers or the nannies. They could be their life-saving doctor, their pastor, their therapist, their mailman, and pretty much everything else in the world. Except simply a person.”

The double consciousness of racists.  To objectify and divide marking difference to ensure that white supremacy continues.   I wasn’t surprised when someone mentioned that Waka Flocka had been hired by this very fraternity to perform at a show.   Thus the video of Waka Flocka Flame shotgunning beers and performing for what seems like a mostly white Oklahoma SAE crowd last year.

It puts Waka Flocka’s cancellation of the show in a slightly less charitable light.  We might read it as solidarity against racist injustice.  We might also call it covering your public relations.

Turns out Waka Flocka has a ton of fraternity shows on youtube. Check the Baylor video where he explains that he doesn’t like a woman in the crowd grabbing his ass.  Note his justifications at 2:05.

Let’s note that the Baylor Waka Flocka show has some visibility  of the entitled audience members who are consuming Waka Flocka Flame.  When Waka is grabbed he explains that he “feels like a bitch.”  It is dumb sexist stuff, but we can also note his refusal to be grabbed and the part about “in my community.”  I think Waka Flocka Flame probably has crazy stuff happen during his live shows (including being grabbed), but something about this rebuttal suggests that this moment is ‘beyond the pale.’

The normalcy of partying to Waka Flocka and then having a racist admission policy (and chanting about it) seems like the interesting part of this SAE duality.  Challenging racism in our day and age needs to be more rigorous and intersectional than this one example, but its a good thread to get access to some key arguments.

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Mimi Thi Nguyen: punk and resistance

There are a lot of smart insights in this Bluestockings interview with Mimi Thi Nguyen.  Feministing shared the link and gave me the heads up that there was some discussion of guilt and professional expectations in the essay.  Nguyen seems persuasive to this punk professor when she writes:

The disjuncture then comes when I consider how we are encouraged to carry ourselves in the academy. I feel a lot of pressure to professionalize, and the prescriptions for professionalization often run counter to my way of being in the world. I also struggle with the directive that I am supposed to professionalize my students. I don’t hold with the idea that I should train students to be better workers, because the content of “better” — more obedient, more efficient, whatever — runs counter to what I want to teach. In my feminist theories courses, I say, “Yeah, I just gave you assignments with deadlines! But I also want to say to you, what’s so great about work? Why do we believe work is supposed to be edifying? Should we always have to be productive? Why do we imagine work as something that gives us dignity? What if it’s just wearing us down?” My history in punk totally informs these attempts to practice other ways of being in a classroom, and other ways of being a professor.

via (Un)productivity in the Digital Age — A Conversation with Mimi Thi Nguyen | Bluestockings Magazine.

Like Nguyen I was a reader of Maximum Rock and Roll since my teens.  I was deeply informed by the DIY spirit and raw love of music and counterculture that ran through MRR.  Along with that inspiring freedom were some toxic interview discussions and columns that also were a big part of MRR.  I remember a particularly racist / sexist sex column, perhaps from Mykel Board?  Nguyen as a young punk writes MRR and challenges the columnist for MRR and gets a hateful column in reply.  The scrap with MRR inspires her to create her own zine Race Riot.

The impetus for Race Riot came when a columnist at Maximum Rockandroll wrote about his Asian fetish, suggesting that Asian women’s eyelids look like vulva, and that their vulva might be also horizontal. It is an old imperial joke — there are all kinds of imperial jokes about how racial, colonial women’s bodies are so inhuman that their genitalia might reflect this alien state. I wrote a letter to Maximum, cussing and citing postcolonial feminist theory. He then wrote a lengthy column in response about how though I’m Asian, because I’m an ugly feminist, he wouldn’t want to fuck me anyway. There was a discussion at the magazine about whether or not to publish this column because the magazine had a policy — no racism, no sexism, no homophobia. But the coordinator and founder of the magazine decided that this column qualified as satire, and so it was acceptable.

It was really infuriating for me to be 19 years old, totally invested in punk and politics, to be attacked under the guise of racist cool in the punk magazine. I was like, “Fuck it, I’m quitting punk.” But I figured I should do something, to leave something behind as a practice and as a document, to reach other punks of color who might feel as isolated as I did in the aftermath.

via (Un)productivity in the Digital Age — A Conversation with Mimi Thi Nguyen | Bluestockings Magazine.

I know a lot of punks who saw the academy as a reasonable place to continue thinking about punk praxis.  Or more particularly, many of us go to an academic job and are reasonably punk in that and other parts of our lives.  Many of the punks I knew are still working with intentional collectives, creating media, hosting shows, playing music, creating alternative spaces and doing-it-themselves.  I’ll give a shout out to my friend Zack Furness and his book Punkademics.  I think you can read the whole book at Minor Compositions.

I’ll note my appreciation and agreement with Nguyen’s analysis of internet communications and the need for pauses for reflection.   She argues:

New technologies have produced expectations that we now have more democratic access to more knowledge, and that we must accommodate ourselves to an accelerated sense of time. But I am wary of this internalization of capital’s rhythms for continuous consumption and open-ended production. I hate feeling obliged to produce a post or tweet on a timetable. It makes me anxious. There is value in being about to respond quickly to an object or event, of course, but I also want to hold out for other forms of temporal consciousness, including untimeliness and contemplation of deep structures, sitting with an object over time to consider how it changes you, how the encounter with it changes the nature of your inquiry.

via (Un)productivity in the Digital Age — A Conversation with Mimi Thi Nguyen | Bluestockings Magazine.

Good interview and strong arguments.

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Americans are vampires: Ebola edition

I ran across a Boing Boing post where they point out that two American missionaries who contracted Ebola appear to have saved by an experimental treatment.  CNN describes the situation:

Its a story that could have come from a cinematic medical thriller: Two American missionary workers contract Ebola. Their situation is dire. Three vials containing a highly experimental drug are flown into Liberia in a last-ditch effort to save them. And the drug flown in last week appears to have worked, according to a source familiar with details of the treatment.Dr. Kent Brantlys and Nancy Writebols conditions significantly improved after receiving the medication, sources say. Brantly was able to walk into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after being evacuated to the United States last week, and Writebol is expected to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

1.   Starting in March 2014, Ebola started to be seen in West Africa.  More than 1600 Africans have shown up sick with more than half of those infected dying.  None of these people got a last-minute salvation.

2.  Everyone in the world has to be terrified of Ebola.  It is one of the most scary diseases I’ve ever heard about.  The notion that a pharmaceutical company in San Diego had a treatment that seems to have worked that was never shared with dying African people is offensive.

3.  I can only imagine what this looks like to people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

4.  The cure had to be pried out of the hands of a for-profit pharmaceutical corporation.  Turns out the months of Africans dying wasn’t sufficient incentive to release the treatment.   So how did these two white American missionaries find out about this miracle treatment?  CNN explains that the missionary charity (Samaritans Purse) made the connection:

As the Americans conditions worsened, Samaritans Purse reached out to a National Institutes of Health scientist who was on the ground in West Africa, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.”The scientist was able to informally answer some questions and referred them to appropriate company contacts to pursue their interest in obtaining the experimental product,” NIAID said.The experimental drug, known as ZMapp, was developed by the biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which is based in San Diego. The patients were told that the treatment had never been tried before in a human being but had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

5.  You might call these Americans vampires.  Back from the dead saved by the magical blood of the sacrifices of those who came before them:

The medicine is a three-mouse monoclonal antibody, meaning that mice were exposed to fragments of the Ebola virus and then the antibodies generated within the mices blood were harvested to create the medicine. It works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

The rush of resources and last-minute miracle part of this narrative is worth talking more about.  But also the sacrifices of the mice, monkeys and the dead Africans have to be considered when thinking about these two saved missionaries.

I think this makes visible the hierarchy of human bodies — the idea that some people count more than others.

Worth noting that the Wall Street Journal reports that one of the Americans was also given a blood transfusion from an African Ebola survivor.

Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol began receiving supportive care as soon as they were diagnosed, according to their respective charities. Dr. Brantly also got a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy who survived Ebola under Dr. Brantlys care, in the hope that antibodies would help him, too, fight off the virus. Both Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol received an experimental serum, the charities said, though they didnt specify what the treatment was.

via U.S. Ebola Virus Patient Being Treated in Atlanta Faces Crucial Days – WSJ.

6.  Some people might ask: ‘don’t you think it’s worth it? Having a potential cure for Ebola is more important than any of these complaints about how the drug got made or released?

I would respond that the harm is done.  Any attempt to justify this kind of hierarchical violence is probably worth noting in itself as evidence of a pernicious desire in the questioner to defend the pharmaceutical company.

Of course I wish for a cure for Ebola and am glad that a treatment seems to be in the works.  I hope for an immediate and full distribution of this new treatment to everyone who has Ebola.

I haven’t seen any leader or press report advocating that the drug should be shared with other dying people.

It is always worth thinking about how we do things.   Few would deny that injustices are done in the name of best intentions.   And we should examine how CNN and the Wall Street Journal write about a phenomenon.

The Wall Street Journal  reports that the death rate of those who get Ebola is one reason why researching a cure isn’t a priority:

There are several vaccines and drug treatments in development and testing for Ebola, but none have been approved by regulators. Commercializing them is a challenge given that Ebola is a rare disease, said Thomas Geisbert, who works on potential Ebola vaccine platforms as a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.”Ebola is very rare—there is not a financial incentive for large pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines for Ebola,” he said. “Its really going to require government agencies or a foundation.”

via U.S. Ebola Virus Patient Being Treated in Atlanta Faces Crucial Days – WSJ.

7.  I’m glad that someone helped to save these two people’s lives.  Here is hoping that same impulse counts for everyone else in the world.

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Filed under Animals, capitalism, colonialism, communication, disaster, drugs, health, media, race, representation, rhetoric, technology

Dave Chappelle and detournement

Jimmy Fallon interviews Chappelle and he let’s loose a number of wonderful funny gems.  Salute to Fallon, The Roots Prince and Dave Chappelle.  A few key moments worth observing:

2:00 “the lost Root” and racial stereotyping.

2: 30 Chappelle’s explanation of the Roots and all their musical buddies in “shelves” at Electric Ladyland is beautiful.

3:10 Prince and detournement (to turn around against itself).  “That is a Prince Judo move right there.” “That’s checkmate right there!”  To use the humorous image of Dave Chappelle as Prince to sell records — situationist genius.  Here is the cover from Prince’s actual song: breakfast can wait.”  Thanks to Okayplayer

Thanks to Okayplayer for the image

I actually went and bought the song.  You can go to 3rdeyegirl and spend eighty-eight cents to buy a snare and slap-bass Prince tune about . . . well helium-inclusive erotic love.  Perhaps another level of detournement is making a great song about a decade-old Chappelle skit.

4:30 Jay-Z, the Black Album and Kanye’s confident rewind. I also love Chappelle’s imitation of Common’s face when he hears the Common-referential lyric.

5:40 Kanye and the punchline: “my life is dope and I do dope shit!” while getting a sneak peak at not-yet-released Chappelle Show skits. 110%.

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