The temperature here is set to reach a hundred degrees by the end of the week, and we’re the lucky ones. In some parts of the country, it’s too hot for airplanes to fly. On days like this my dad used to throw us in the truck and head out to the lake, his scratched-up driftboat in the bed and us with our thighs stuck to the hot vinyl seats in the front. I remember being so small, kneeling in the curved belly of the boat while my father rowed, one eye on the sky for July thunderstorms. “Sit still, mae-mae,” he’d remind me. “Don’t rock the boat.” Continue reading
Of all the tone-policing arguments that have come out of the dozen or so groups I’ve been shunted into since the election, the one that currently impresses me the least is “you won’t win anyone to your side by breaking windows and blocking streets.” There also seems to be some sort of delusion that movements must court and win the favor of moderate white liberals in order to prevail, and that anyone who refuses to use honeyed words and pleas is “hurting the movement.”
Look, if being polite to the oppressor made them see you as human, take your side, and award you rights, Gone with the Wind would have ended with Scarlett selling all those fancy dresses so that she could make sure to have the right mule-to-acreage ratio for Mammy and Pork and Prissy and Big Sam. Continue reading
Whoa. When I put together that post – which, let’s be honest, the original intended audience was like ten very earnest white ladies who occasionally buy me mimosas and pumpkin spice lattes – I had no idea what was about to happen. Let’s just say a) I’m a little blown away; b) my blog stats are 100% fucked forever; and c) I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on what I left out, why I left it out, and exactly how many people are ready to crawl up in someone’s DMs and lambaste them for leaving nuance out of a 101-level post. So let’s grit our teeth and dive back in at a more nuanced level. For those of you who are just getting up to speed here, some of this stuff may be frustrating or not make a lot of sense yet, but I can just about guarantee you an AHA! moment with all of it at some point in the future. I’m still focusing on the able-bodied white ladies, because that’s the most significant data sampling I have, (plus, like, I am one?) so bear with me. You’re smart enough to extrapolate these lessons to your particular situation, or to leverage them for the well-meaning white ladies in your life. Comments will remain on until the first dude pops up and makes a damn fool of himself (non-fool dudes, you are of course welcome). Continue reading
I wrote this for a specific group, but I’ve been asked to share it. A lot of folks are just waking up to activism and are heading into intersectional feminist spaces with some trepidation. Hopefully this can help keep you on track. I’ve already been reminded that I missed code-switching, appropriation (which is a whole post, frankly, but TL;dr if a living group exists that can be mocked for the thing you think is cool and that you want to do, don’t), and a few other things. I’ll try to pick those up at a later date, but in the meantime this primer will help you get your feet wet without making a damn fool of yourself. Much. It’s all lessons I learned the hard way, so do better than me and remember we’re all works in progress.) Continue reading
Hey. You. Psssst. Yeah you, my well-meaning white liberal American friend. C’mere. There’s plenty of room on the couch so sit for a minute; we’re gonna have a little talk about the future. Continue reading
In writing an essay, tight word count is most often the author’s friend. While you need to use (Alton Sterling) enough words to convey your (Rumain Brisbon) meaning completely, too many (Tamir Rice) words and you risk losing the reader’s attention. Akai Gurley. The rise of the longform essay, that novella-to-self, has not Kajieme Powell been a particular boon to Ezell Ford new writers. Instead of fleshing out a thought with Dante Parker more information, the longform John Crawford essay has become bloated, padded with Tyree Woodson the writer’s ego, stuffed with paid-by-phrase Eric Garner wordcount.
On the other hand, sometimes as Michael Brown a writer it is Victor White necessary (it became necessary Sandra Bland to destroy Yvette Smith the town to save it) to add McKenzie Cochran a heaviness Jordan Baker to one’s Andy Lopez words. To Miriam Carey weigh the reader Jonathan Ferrell down Carlos Alcis with the Larry Eugene Jackson weight Deion Fludd of what Kimani Gray they Malissa Williams are Timothy Russell reading, Reynaldo Cuevas have been Chavis Carter reading, Shantel Davis are Tamon Robinson still Ervin Jefferson reading. Kendrec McDade. Rekia Boyd. Shereese Francis.
Wendell Allen. Nehemiah Dillard. Dante Price. Sgt. Manuel Loggins, Jr. Ramarley Graham. Sometimes you Kenneth Chamberlain need weight. Alonzo Ashley. Raheim Brown. Sometimes Danroy Henry weight is all Aiyana Jones you have. Steven Eugene Washington. Aaron Campbell. Sometimes Kiwane Carrington words Victor Steen don’t Shem Walker weigh enough. Tarika Wilson. DeAunta Terrel Farrow. Sean Bell.
Henry Glover. Ronald Madison. James Brisette. Timothy Stansbury. Alberta Spruill. Ousmane Zongo. Orlando Barlow. Timothy Thomas. Prince Jones. Amadou Diallo. Jesus Huerta. Noel Polanco. Anthony Nunez. Keith Childress. Bettie Jones. Kevin Matthews. Leroy Browning. Roy Nelson. Miguel Espinal. Nathaniel Pickett. Cornelius Brown. Chandra Weaver. I can’t breathe. Jamar Clark. Richard Perkins. Michael Lee Marshall. Alonzo Smith. Yvens Selde. Anthony Ashford. Lamontez Jones. Paterson Brown. Junior Prosper. Keith McLeod. India Kager. Tyree Crawford. Felix Kumi. Asshams Manley. Christian Taylor. Brian Day. Michael Sabbie. Billy Ray Davis. Samuel Dubose. Darrius Stewart. Albert Davis. Salvado Ellswood. Jonathan Sanders. Spencer McCain. Jermaine Benjamin. Nuwnah Laroche. Bryan Overstreet. William Chapman. Samuel Harrell. Freddie Gray. Frank Shephard. Walter Scott. Eric Harris. Fuck your breath. Phillip White. Brandon Jones. Bernard Moore. Naeschylus Vinzant. Deontre Dorsey. Calvon Reid.
The sheer weight of words can eventually come to feel oppressive to the reader. Readers of long essays often complain “why are you still telling me this?”
Matthew Ajibade. Tommy Yancy. Jerame Reid. Zikarious Flint. Jason Harrison. Gregory Lewis Towns. Ernest Satterwhite. Howard Wallace Bowe. Kaldrick Donald. Robert Baltimore. David Andre Scott. David Yearby. Latandra Ellington. Willie Harden. Rumain Brisbon. Matthew Walker. Stephen Isby. Dontre Hamilton.
I’m still telling you this because it’s still happening.
450 words. And counting.
[Editor’s note: Philando Castile. 452 words.]
“How did nobody know that kid was going to kill someone? I mean, look at his Facebook picture. He looks like a murderer.” -a friend of mine, on Dylann Storm Roof
It’s a question that I hear a lot these days, in the aching 20/20 hindsight that follows a mass killing. The shooter spoke, frequently and loudly, about his hatred for the target. How he wished they were all dead. Posted to social media. Dylann Roof did it. Elliot Rodger did it. They were visible, obvious, apparent. And nobody thought it was odd.
In hindsight, the pictures are sinister. Dressed in military fatigues or camouflage, the subject grimaces into the camera, weapon pointed. How can any viewer not feel instinctively that this is the photo of a potential murderer?
Sorry. You can see how I’d be confused, though, right?
This is exactly how you didn’t see it coming. We as a society normalize these pictures. Normalize those conversations. Tell people who object to racialized or sexualized threats that they’re too sensitive. That they should stay off the internet.
As a society, we don’t see aberrant behavior coming because it looks too much like the behavior we accept.
See, right up until he killed nine people, Dylann Roof looked exactly like your Racist Uncle Jim. You know the one. He shows up at Thanksgiving every year and won’t stop calling Brazil nuts “N—- toes” and everyone’s a little uncomfortable but “it’s just Uncle Jim” and “he won’t learn, just ignore him.”
Stop ignoring Racist Uncle Jim. Because he can learn. He doesn’t shit his pants at the dinner table, right? Then he can learn to stop saying racist things, too. In fact, it’s your job as a decent human being who likes preventing hate crimes to tell him to stop. Because every time you permit Racist Uncle Jim to get away with dropping his N-bombs at the dinner table, you personally are contributing just a little more camouflage to the Dylann Roofs of the world.
From the outside, there is no difference between your friend who gleefully makes jokes about running over sex workers in video games to get his money back and Elliot Rodger.
From the outside, there is no difference between your buddy posting a picture of himself with a Confederate flag and this:
No. Difference. Every time someone posts a picture like this, it’s a little easier for the mass killers of this world to hide. Every time someone posts a diatribe, a hate manifesto, a racist slur, a gendered taunt. Sorting the wheat from the chaff becomes incredibly difficult.
More difficult when you say “it’s just Uncle Jim. He’s harmless.” Uncle Jim is not harmless. Uncle Jim is the protective coloration of murderers.
As a society, we need to express that threats are not harmless. Racism is not a performance. It’s not entertainment. If we could get a lid on “harmless” people’s threatening behavior, threatening behavior would become anomalous and obvious- we could do something about it. But we don’t. We don’t take threats seriously.
“He was a racist; but I don’t judge people.” – Dalton Tyler, acquaintance of Dylann Roof
And yet. Judgment is how a healthy society develops and perpetuates mores. Social disapprobation is a deterrent to behavior. When you fail to judge, when you fail to condemn or disapprove, vocally, someone’s inappropriate or antisocial behavior, the message you’re communicating is that you, as part of society, finds this behavior acceptable.
Yes, when you don’t tell your sister that commenting “well, police don’t pull you over with no reason” on your Facebook post is a problem, you’re sending the message not just to her but to everyone who reads the comment that you endorse her opinion. When enough people do this, it sends the message that society as a whole endorses this opinion. Because people act in accordance with perceived social approval, they will tend to agree with or endorse that opinion even if they originally held a different opinion. Think about that for a minute.
So cast judgment. Tell people when they’re wrong. Say when their behavior is harmful. If you don’t know whether a behavior is harmful, defer to the people who say that they are harmed by it – their lived experience trumps your theory about what it would feel like if someone said that about you.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable to be the only one who says “That’s racist, shut up.” It’s hard to say, in a room full of laughing people, “Actually, rape jokes aren’t funny.” Does your discomfort trump the safety of others? Let’s try another hypothetical. There are a hundred people in a room holding knives. One person has a real knife. If you put your rubber knife away, and start telling other people who you know have rubber knives to put theirs away, the real knife becomes visible very quickly.
It’s the same thing with racism. Mass killers. Rapists. When antisocial behavior is anomalous, it becomes obvious and easy to detect. Do your part. Speak up. Judge. Being one of the good guys means more than just not killing people. It means not helping hide the people who do.