The struggle for social justice is an all-tilt fight that most people don’t get a choice about. If you do get the privilege to reflect on where you fight, then ethically I think you should double down on your work.
Breai Mason-Campbell outlines the particular tensions with whiteness and the risks that encountering the pain of Coronavirus might encourage some white folks to tighten up and cling to white supremacy even more. The whole essay, published in a new magazine Pipewrench, is a potent read and a compass to guide us through the dark.
“Devoid of the necessary layers of sturdiness and resilience, Nice White Folks were not prepared for a pandemic that required universal suffering under the weight of compounded and inescapable realities. This was a foray into unknown pain where White Supremacy, clad in a MAGA hat, revealed its capacity to make pawns out of its own members. This was unadulterated Whiteness, feudal and indiscriminate in its destructive impulse and maskless irreverence. Being the teacher, and the nurse, and the custodian, and the cafeteria manager, and the boss or the employee, and the significant other, and the caretaker of older parents, bound to keep smiling and keep working because your life or someone else’s depends on it — it hurt in a way that Whiteness is not supposed to hurt. It broke the rules.
It also created an opportunity for real change. This pandemic squeezed empathy from a stone by thrusting White people into the uncharted territory of unmerited adversity; plagues, as the Hebrew Bible teaches us, open small windows of opportunity for liberation. Still, even after the worst pestilence temporarily broke Pharaoh’s resolve, abuse of power would not learn. His grief turned to blind rage and a renewed commitment to destruction and domination at any cost. White Power may be down, but it’s not out. “
Hearing the verdict doesn’t change the necessity for change and one white police officer having a moment of accountability doesn’t change the larger stakes and the necessary work.
On January 6, supporters of the sitting president of the United States attacked the United States capitol and rioted inside the building. The stories, images and fallout are all visible and well documented. Here is how I understand that we got here:
In the 80s, republican operatives, mapping demographic changes and voting assumptions began to see rising numbers of people of color as a threat to the electoral power that they had held. Billionare conservatives started funding very specific media sources (Breitbart, Fox News, Daily Caller) to make money from a new market – white people who could be made angry about changes for justice in order to create an enthusastic white supremacist voting block to keep republicans in power.
In their mind, there were just a few short decades to go until the showdown, so they strategized in a couple of very focused ways to ensure that conservative business leaders could resist.
They funded, fostered, nurtured white anger against people of color at every opportunity. Using the axis of race, right wing journalists could re-articulate crushing poverty as the fault of the gains of people of color. It was the Southern Strategy on steroids.
They invested heavily in controlling the courts. Federalist society, nurturing young conservatives, scholarships, mentorship, and guidance to create targeted young right wing ideologues ready to carry the white supremacist mission long after they are dead.
They worked hard to win state legislatures, and use gerrymandering to minimize the power of voters that didn’t vote republican.
They succeeded in establishing a relationships to politicize videogame players and an emerging online troll culture to embrace the symbols of white supremacy with ease and comfort.
They absorbed / hijacked the Republican party in the 2010s and reassured the traditional elements of that coalition that the gains in power would be worth the harm to the nation. Corporate donors, philanthropists, government agencies, and many others became complicit in a full-fledged white supremacist government structure working under the Trump administration to do active harm to people of color at almost every turn.
Here is where we often get it twisted. The justifications and explanations for each of these activist strategies are fairly well documented. The key question is how do a small number of very privileged republican organizers spin this strategy? What do they specifically say and to who – these questions can be part of the educational work to innoculate future fascist moments. In this case, the narrative of white supremacy was the only communiciation strong enough to push working class white people to harm people of color and it was buoyed by hatred of women and an anger at lack of white solidarity.
There are a lot of issues of accountability that will be navigated in the next few weeks. Criminal charges for those who killed a cop, resignations from those leaders who are identifed as responsible (or those who are scapegoated). And this rupture will open the space for new policies that will often have profoundly negative implications for people of color, poor people, women and disadvantaged folks (increased surveillance, new anti-terrorism laws, policing in communities of color etc). To rush into policy-making without reflection is a terrible path forward.
We should take stock of the recuperation efforts. Examine those who played a role, or had been connected to the violence and some-how are attempting to detatch themselves. We should be asking how the invitation was framed such that it made sense to so many people. But finding access points is important.
My first off note about this was Strava – the bike riding app told me that it didn’t support the insurrection against the US government and weren’t cop killers in an announcement at the top of the app. Well yeah . . . you are supposed to be an app that tracks my cycling miles, I hadn’t honestly assumed that you were in favor of a violent overthrow of the government by Nazis and their allies.
“What we saw in the US Capitol this week was the antithesis of what Strava stands for,” the letter read. “It was internal terrorism and we denounced it. Whatever the limits or flaws our democracy may have, we believe that we must protect it. ”
“This is not about politics. These are fundamental principles in which we deeply believe: treat ALL people with decency, respect and fairness ”. says the letter. “When you joined Strava, you joined a global community of athletes who are in line with our community standards: respect each other, respect the rules, and be inclusive and anti-racist.” (Sidenote: it looks like Strava disappeared this note almost as soon as it was made. The only reference I can find to this quote is from a weird fitness webpage that is giving me fascist vibes . . .)
We can probably distinguish those corporations who took a serious loss from their de-platforming of Donald Trump from those who chose the moment to try to forward their brand. In this case, we are talking about a corporation that commented on the attacks either for their own gain or to protect themselves from public relations losses.
Axe Body Spray for instance.
Axe Body spray is the worst. Not only in aroma, but in the toxic sexist rape culture advertising that has been marked, mocked and mapped. I’m not surprised that Axe body spray had to respond – they must know that the bogus entitlement to sex because you sprayed yourself down with duck urine is tied to the entitlement of those who tried to murder Nancy Pelosi.
“We’d rather be lonely” is the most minimizing and trivializing read on the events of January 6. To understand that Axe would go without their body spray rather than be affiliated with the murderous nazis and that they still have time to indicate that it would make them lonely is grotesque. They still want you to know that if you don’t wear Axe Body Spray you won’t get laid . . . Axe sells entitlement and in this case, a multinational corporation’s PR team put it clearly that this one was too far (but all the other normal entitled crap will continue).
I think that whoever run’s Axe’s twitter handle might not get the depth of this moment. But then again neither did the men who came to DC to murder uppity women. For instance Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr. The investigating report indicates that he voluntarily showed Federal agents text messages planning to kill Speaker Pelosi.
Misogynistic slurs have been uncovered and amplified in the quotes of those who drove to the capital heavily armed with a desire to do harm. The centrality of violence against women is really tied to the logic of the transgression of violating the capitol. The goal was similar to the early 1900s strategies of faux-assasination communications attentat – to illustrate the potential for somene to be harmed. To illustrate that a president or a king can be reached and to strike fear.
We could also examine this from the perspective of the domestic violence literature. Understanding the power and control wheel and the transgression of safe spaces to induce terror. Abusers will communicate in many small ways that the abused is not safe – including by invading previously safe space to communicate disempowerment.
There was no way to understand the photos of the dude with his feet up on the desk outside Speaker Pelosi’s office and his initial encounters with the press documenting his take on the event. Barnett is his name and we can match the entitlement and joy in transgressing with is deep hatred of a powerful woman.
Donald Trump has articulated the hurt done to white men in several divisive ways, but the deeply sexist and racist framings he has presented seem to have tracked well with the people who showed up to do harm on January 6.
Challenging white supremacy means contesting the common-sense nature of the dialogue. Fragmented social media (where people can bury themselves in media which affirms their point of view) has reached a point of insulation – where it can protect harmful ideas from critique. This means that unpacking white supremacist (ill)logic means navigating the ways that sexism and racism co-create this moment of deep entitlement and violence.
It is hard to fathom the loss of DOOM (editing note – “all caps when you spell the man’s name”). I listened to a lot of MF DOOM and spent quite a few hours discussing, debating and analyzing his lyrics. I can’t capture the depth and weirdnesss of thoughts about DOOM in a single post – every time I sit down to outline this post I get a gigantic spider web of entwined themes.
Black america, slang, diaspora reflections, coded language in hip hop, sample choices, mocking, survivorship, graffiti, families, drugs and alcohol, masking, comic books, representation, sex, communication strategies and a million other threads travel through DOOM lyrics. All you can really do is pull some of those strings and hope that they spark meaningful thoughts.
So maybe we start with the fact that DOOM wrote about his death, his legacy and the fragile nature of human existence in his first song as DOOM.
Daniel Dumile emerged in the NYC hip hop sphere as MF DOOM for the potent first album Operation: Doomsday with the support of Bobbito Garcia and his indie record label Fondle ‘Em. Although Dumile had rhymed with KMD, this was a new incarnation for the artist with a new mask, lyrical style and stylized representation as a villain – exhaggerating every hip hop trope with double and triple entendres.
“On Doomsday/ ever since the womb/ ‘Til I’m back where my brother went, that’s what my tomb will say/ Right above my government: Dumile/ Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who’s to say?”
MF DOOM “Doomsday” from Operation: Doomsday.
Dumile’s brother Subroc was killed in a car accident the same week that his band KMD was dropped from Elektra shelving their second album Black Bastards. The band was fired because of the album cover art presenting the hanging of a Sambo character – symbolizing the birth of a new Afro-centric Black man who refused to perform demeaning roles. Cue Dante Ross.
How do you make art out of this kind of stuff? DOOM is honest about his own upcoming death in the chorus, then he names the stakes. It has been DOOM’s day (centered on him) and also a apocalypse/catastrophe (doomsday) from his birth until his death. His tomb might be engraved (famous) or he may finish his run on this earth as an un-acknowledged anonymous dead person but he is going to work.
It is a weird thing to put in the middle of your comeback/vengence album. But for DOOM life and death never seem all that far apart. This is the opening track (after the intro skit) an honored place in the hip hop album – the centerpiece to tell a consumer if they should buy the album. It might seem morbid, but this is life and death stuff and that crucible produces amazing art.
Doom reports that he made the album while semi-homeless, sleeping on couches, battling doubt and an industry that didn’t understand or like him. Which forced a very intimate album. The samples are friendly (if you like 80s and 90s RnB – DOOM and his friend’s limited record collections) and looped with careful MPC skill by the masked villain himself (as he writes in “Operation: Greenbacks” he owns the crown in “microphone, beats or the wheeles of steel”).
For me this song presents a declaration of his rebirth into a new world of DOOM. The song is an invitation to understand an artist’s use of the medium of hip hop to embody his own will to re-define and rearticulate himself. From a traumatized rejected creative artist who had tried to do the right thing (KMD) to a retaliatory bad-man who was beloved and could also pay his electric bill. That transformation came through intention, lyricism, imagination and the follow-through to make something happen.
We can imagine the tomb as an end piece – the final resting place – but we can also understand the tomb as a transition between worlds. Most mystery cults (and the saccharine descendants like the masons) use simulated burial, re-birth and re-naming as ritual symbols marking a person’s change by committing to the worldview.
In similar ways the end of KMD, ending of intimacy (you don’t get to see DOOM’s face after this) and the death of Dumile’s brother come to a focal point in this song’s chorus. Like a mystery cult burying an initiate in a stylized coffin suffused in incense and low lighting only to have them emerge reborn and shrouded in a new costume and given a new name.
For the comic book loving Dumile, it is also the birth of every significant bad guy character. It is Doctor Doom from the Fantastic Four comic book crafting his metal mask, studying esoteric magic and creating the character to plague the comic book heroes. It is a great story arc for an artist and Dumile could foster a literal mask to keep the public just far enough away from the actual pain while still talking explicitly about how much he missed his brother and was still angry at the journalists and record labels that had ruined he and his brother’s career.
The new DOOM, clad in the metal mask is ready to make fun of the goody goody rappers like KMD. Not only that, he wants their money, the credit and the praise. In his mini Jeopardy segment in the song, DOOM chooses the category “Means to the end” – he will do what needs to be done to get the money. He is “Bound to go three Plat / Came to destroy rap.”
Emerging as a villain from the tomb had to be liberating – and DOOM is free to drive off with sexy women, brag about his toughness in jail, mock the current so-called tough guy rappers and play with verbal expression without any limitations other than being the best. And that is what made him a villain in their eyes — and a hero in ours.
At the heart of white supremacy is the request to those who get white skin privilege to take care of their own. White supremacy means that white people explicitly or implicitly give jobs, representations (front stage in advertising, leading roles in televisions shows) and foreground the needs and stories of white people. White supremacy is insidious because it is the water we drink every day in the United States and the casual continued comfort with the symbols of white supremacy (including the stars and bars) is evidence of how deeply twisted white supremacy is with american culture.
In 2015 Bree Newsome took down the confederate flag that flew in front of South Carolina’s statehouse. Here is the Vox footage from that direct action.
This is a really interesting case study for several reasons.
Newsome’s use of biblical and constitutional rhetoric present a uniquely american rhetorical location for Black amercians – faith in God and indignant appeal to promised democracatic structures for equality (civil rights). Given the central location of separation of church and state in the first amendment, the combination of biblical scripture and civil rights might seem in tension. But Black churches have been central places for spiritual respite, cultural survival and political resistance in this nation. Which is why they have historically been targeted for violence. Newsome is climbing in the shadow of the Charleston South Carolina massacre in the The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where an avowed white supremacist murdered nine worshipers including the pastor and state senator Clemanta Pickney. Newsome puts the pieces together about historical violence and the context of the action in the Democracy Now interview:
2. I was at a lecture this month where the presenter noted this as a good example of white work for racial solidarity. James Tyson climbed the fence with Newsome and helped out with the action. The presenter called this collaborators, arguing that anti-racist work needed more white people interested in collaborating to make changes for racial justice. Others like Noel Ignatiev have noted that solidarity to fight racism means sharing risk and there are ways that this can be done performatively. Thinking, talking and strategizing about how to be productive and ethical allies to people of color means consideration. James Tyson shared in the risk (both got arrested), used his privilege (he argues with the police officers that Newsome should be allowed to come down the flagpole on her own for safety – he notes that “They had enough respect to allow me to help her.” in the Democracy Now interview).
3. The moral authority to remove the symbol of the confederate flag in this case is the justification for civil disobedience and direct action. Newsome is excellent on this point:
Thinking about changing white supremacy means all of the tools in the tool box. The cultural awareness, education, political action, stunts, celebrity endorsements and militant actions will be necessary. This long-standing constellation of white supremacist narratives that have sustained inequality and injustice as normal by stretching and re-articulating violence as community care for people who are like you. To move away from that requires mental and political work. Taking note of the keystones and approaches that can inform the work to come is useful.
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:
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.
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.
“Titles are good, purpose is better.” Senator Nina Turner makes the argument to use your access. (6:30)
West’s anger toward Obama is palpable. And Senator Turner’s experience with Hillary Clinton is interesting at the 42 minute mark.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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