8/9/14 – 8/9/15

I remember where I was when I heard that Mike Brown had been shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson.

I remember where I was when they announced no indictment for former officer Wilson in killing Mike Brown.

I remember watching from afar–when I couldn’t be there in person–the teargassing of my city, of my fellow residents. I remember hearing the government representatives tell us that if we didn’t behave, of course we deserved tanks in our streets–as if anger is not an appropriate response to hundreds of years of systemic oppression. As if peaceful angry protesters are the same as people rioting over nothing. As if it didn’t take exorbitant measures to get national attention to a problem that has been killing people for hundreds of years.

A lot has happened in the last year. Much of it has been good, though it would be a mistake to claim a past-tense (as that article headline does): that the protests worked, as if they’re over and done, as if racism is solved, as if police brutality is solved.

Yes, Ferguson’s courts and municipalities are seeing an overhaul. Yes, there’s more money for police body cams, and yes Obama is embracing talk about race.

But:

A CBS/New York Times poll published at the end of July found 58% of white people thought police were no more likely to use deadly force against black people than against white people – the same figure recorded shortly after Brown’s death in Ferguson. It also found 51% of white people thought the criminal justice system either treated black people fairly or was even biased in their favour – a fall of only two percentage points since 2013.

A Pew poll published at the end of April found the proportion of white Americans reporting a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the police to treat black and white people equally had actually risen slightly since 2009, while falling among black Americans. And while the share of white Americans with very little confidence in the police applying equal treatment rose slightly as well, it jumped sharply by 12 points among black people to a level approaching half of all respondents.

This, despite that people of color keep dying in police ‘care’. Thanks to #SandySpeaks and #SayHerName, Sandra Bland may be the most recently ‘famous’ of these deaths:

The possibilities are these: Bland died from an untreated head injury after State Trooper Brian Encinia bashed her head against the pavement and police staged her suicide; Bland died from an epileptic seizure (recall that Encinia’s response to Bland telling him she had epilepsy was “Good”) and police staged her suicide; Bland was killed or died in some other way in police custody and her sucide was staged; or Bland indeed took her own life, after she informed police of previous suicide attempts and they utterly failed to prevent another while she was in their care.

There is no version of events where police are not culpable for Sandra Bland’s death.

As well, systemic racism is itself alive and well. This is evident not only in the deaths at Mother Emanuel AME, where Dylann Roof murdered 9 people of color simply for existing as people of color, but also in the number of transgender women of color (and transgender people of color in general) who are murdered and have been murdered this year. Even mixed-race families aren’t immune to police harassment and brutality, to systemic racism just as they drive from their home to visit family.

Black men –

Black Men Killed by cops
From: http://images.dailykos.com/images/118810/large/Black_Men_Killed_by_cop.JPG?1417792621

and black women –

Black women killed by cops
From: http://www.onebillionrising.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/11119135_10152922664669226_5906757496662627872_n.png

keep being killed by cops. Cops keep killing them. They’re more likely to die by police violence than white people, despite being a smaller portion of the population.

In a one-year-later interview posted on MotherJones, @Nettaaaaaaaa (Johnetta Elzie) points out that Rome wasn’t built in a day:

JE: The police are still killing people. Six people died Wednesday. But I think it is so unfair that people expect leaps and bounds to happen in just 365 days. Nothing in the Civil Rights Movement was accomplished in a day. The Civil Rights Movement spanned 10 years. So, for people to expect so much out of one year is really, really wild to me. And that question kind of shows me how far removed people are from this. Proximity matters. So, if you are an onlooker, and you’re just looking for progress and improvements and things like that, then that’s a different conversation to have with someone else who’s not so invested. But for some people, this is their life. They’ve been harmed by the police. They’ve seen their family and friends harmed by the police. And this is emotional work to be doing. So in this one year, I feel like we have accomplished much. But there is still a lot to do because police are still protected by their unions, by the institution of policing in general. And still have been killing people at higher rates than even last year, for example. July was literally the deadliest month of 2015. And that’s a problem.

It is a problem. Things are different, and in some ways better–but also in some ways worse. We’ve woken up the slumbering beast. We’ve lit the match and touched it to the kindling. We cannot now ignore, no matter how much we may want to, that racism exists and is systemic and pervasive. We cannot ignore that it kills. And we cannot ignore that we still have work to do.

Misogyny and Racism Kill

In the wake of the Charleston Mother AME Church shooting, I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve watched the events unfold of #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, black female pastors receiving death threats, and the Confederate flag debates.

Two articles stuck out to me, personally, as they dealt with the ways that gender and race intersect, particularly in relation to this recent and the ongoing violence perpetrated against Black (and mostly female) bodies in the name of White female bodies.

The first challenged me to review my own self, as I am a white woman. Titled “I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore,” the article explores Dylann Roof’s self-proclaimed motive in murdering Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson in their church after he sat with them in Bible study for an hour in their welcome. As he shot them, Roof claimed, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.” This article–and I–focus on the ‘our women’ part of the statement. Whose women? Which women? Most of the people Roof killed were women, after all–but they were black women, and thus beneath consideration to him. To Roof, ‘women’ means ‘white women.’

From the article:
There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past. American racism is always gendered; racism and sexism are mutually dependent, and cannot be unstitched.

The article goes on to point out that this isn’t only a black-and-white problem–that it’s a problem of white and all non-white bodies, as shown by Donald Trump’s recent hideous remarks.

Again from the article: Trump failed to mention that 80 percent of girls and women crossing that border are raped as they make the journey. Those girls and women aren’t white. Gender is always raced, and race is always gendered.

Whiteness, then–the ‘purity’ of white womanhood–is being ‘protected’ violently by white men at the expense of non-white bodies, of all genders. This puts non-white women in a place of non-humanity and non-white men in a place of monstrosity. The problem isn’t non-whiteness; the problem is whiteness and how we live it out.

I refuse to stand by idly while white men try to protect me from a non-existent threat. I refuse to be made to sit on a pedestal. I reject the comfort of that position, even as I recognize that I cannot opt out of a system that subjugates and oppresses without question. None of us are free until all of us are free. 

The second article comes not from my own experience. It challenges me by coming from outside my own experience. Titled “On the Pole for Freedom: Bree Newsome’s Politics, Theory, and Theology of Resistance,” it focuses on heroine Bree Newsome’s now-famous take-down of the Confederate flag.

From the article:So I’mma say that the pole here – flagpole though it were – still marks a liminal space of possibility for what Black resistance beyond respectability looks like. Bree Newsome’s Black girl body climbed a pole, quoting scripture, to take down a flag that is emblematic of so much violence enacted on the Black body by the U.S. nation-state. Her act exploded every simple discourse we are currently having about what faith demands, about what decorum dictates that we should accept, about what are acceptable forms of resistance for (cis) Black women’s bodies.

Respectability politics would have the marginalized–women, non-white people, non-cis folks, non-hetero folks, etc–behave exactly like cisgender, heterosexual, white men in order to have the ‘benefits’ of existing. Bree Newsome took this notion and turned it on its head. As she scaled a pole, she recited Scripture. As she ripped down a symbol of violence, she claimed no fear. In the face of police–in the face of far too much police brutality against non-white bodies–she peaceably resisted and gave herself over.

Having read both this article and the one above it, I am struck afresh by the violence against non-white bodies, by the supposed protection of white women, by our (white women’s) complicity-via-silence.

From the first article again: It was, and remains, necessary for white women to decry the violence that is done in our name. It is on us to dismantle racism with just as much commitment as we dismantle sexism, for one cannot happen without the other.

We have work to do. We must break our silence. We must not sit passively by while our white womanhood is ‘defended’ from a threat that does not exist. We must uplift the very real threats that do exist–of racism, of sexism, of the kyriarchy.

Two ways to start: A reading list called the #Charlestonsyllabus. And a way to donate to help the churches that are burning, via the Rebuild the Churches Fund.