On Bullshit Tactics

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If insanity is doing the same things repeatedly expecting a different outcome, are Black people working inside the system insane at this point?

I remember a book discussion I moderated when TaNehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me was released to critical acclaim. A self-proclaimed fearless Black man asked an engineer in the room, “What do you do when something is broken and it can’t be fixed?”

The engineer, a proud Black man, repeatedly exclaimed, “I’m an engineer! We fix things! We don’t stop until we find a solution!”

The fearless Black man, unimpressed, repeated the question at least three times. “But what if it CAN’T be fixed?”

After going in circles, I piped up, laughing incredulously and answered the original question logically. “Destroy it! If you can’t fix it, you must destroy it and start over!”

The United States cannot be fixed.

The United States of America cannot be fixed.

This country was built on indigenous genocide and slavery. Its founders instilled a sense of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism that is still felt by many today. The problem is America is not exceptional and it never has been. Americans have done interesting things, sure, but we are hardly the only inhabitants of Earth to innovate. The white supremacist system of government has caused hundreds of years of pain and death, most often visited upon Black and Brown bodies. What exactly are we trying to save here?

Furthermore, why on earth would Black and Brown people willingly participate in a system designed to kill them? The election of the current president should be a wake up call to many of us who thought we could change things if we get a seat at the table. If we could just rise to enough power, maybe they will listen to us and stop killing us unjustly, right?

I do not believe that at all. Perhaps I’m just tired of fighting day in and day out with no real change occurring, but I’ve understood for a long time that no matter what we do, how many offices we hold, how many white people laud our efforts, this country is behaving in exactly the way it was designed. It cannot be fixed because it is either broken beyond repair, or working as intended. Interestingly enough, both of those options can be true at the same time.

Great efforts were made during the Civil War, Reconstruction, The Civil Rights Movement and today, so why are Black people still disproportionately affected by poverty, harsh disciplinary policies in schools, harsh sentencing policies in court, lack of educational resources in our communities, gentrification driving us out of our communities and more? What exactly is a new generation of Black leaders going to do that the previous generation couldn’t accomplish? Will they be more unapologetic? Will they speak louder and refuse to be “respectable?” Will they demand more?

Contrary to those who proclaim they are not their grandparents; previous generations of civil rights activists were not all docile and respectable. Plenty of firebrands lived in every era of struggle since we were brought to this country and it would be wise to honor them. The problem didn’t lie with their tactics, it lay with the fact that this country was built to subdue them. From inception, this country has been rotten in its treatment of non-white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant males and quite beneficial to the WASPs that fit the desired mold.

So the question has to be asked. Is it insane for Black people to willingly participate in a system designed to destroy them? Is there really another way other than destroying that system before it destroys us?

 

Note: An edited version of this essay with supporting data links has been published on Racebaitr and is viewable here.

On the rise of fascism in the U.S. 

Resist.
This is not normal. We should not accept this. Resist. Keep resisting. Fight for our survival.

This is not normal. We should not accept this. Resist. Keep resisting. Fight for our survival.

This is not normal. We should not accept this. Resist. Keep resisting. Fight for our survival.

This is not normal. We should not accept this. Resist. Keep resisting. Fight for our survival.

This is not normal. We should not accept this. Resist. Keep resisting. Fight for our survival.

This is not normal. We should not accept this. Resist. Keep resisting. Fight for our survival.

This is not normal. We should not accept this. Resist. Keep resisting. Fight for our survival.

This is not normal. We should not accept this. Resist. Keep resisting. Fight for our survival.

This is not normal. We should not accept this. Resist. Keep resisting. Fight for our survival.

Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist.

On Love

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Aiyana Stanley-Jones’ grandmother loved her. This was evident as she tearfully recounted the horrible night Aiyana, then 7 years old, was killed while sleeping on the couch. When overzealous cops bombed their way into her house, Mrs. Jones reached for the granddaughter whom she loved, but could not save.

Charles Kinsey loves his job as a behavioral therapist so much that he literally laid his life on the line for his distraught patient. Doing everything “right,” he was still shot in the street by a cop who said “I don’t know” when asked why. To add insult to injury, he was handcuffed in the street while bleeding from his gunshot wound.

Many Black parents love their children and try to protect them by having “the talk” as soon as they begin to be more autonomous. Not the birds and the bees talk, mind you, the “this is how you act in order to make it home alive” talk. A set of rules for interaction with police designed to minimize the children’s blackness, and by extension, their perceived dangerousness. Just do as they say, pepper in a bunch of “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir” responses, don’t make any sudden moves and be sure to let the nice officer search anything he wants so he won’t kill you on the side of the road. This is what we have been taught for generations, yet nothing has changed.

Society (and religion) tells us to love our enemies, be the better person and “spread love instead of hate.” Platitudes about love being the only thing that will help us abound as we literally fight for our lives. Some Black people with their heads in the clouds proclaim they will just keep on loving everyone in an effort to change the hearts of racists as if that will make systemic racism disappear. Many whites, uncomfortable with real change, encourage this idea.

It won’t work. None of these tactics will even begin to topple the centuries old system of white supremacy in this country and secure our true freedom. Not one of them.

Loving our enemies does nothing more than encourage them to continue to oppress us as if we like it. With basically no consequences to be had for targeting and killing Black men, women and children, there is no reason for them to stop doing it. There is no impetus to stop and think before pulling the trigger since they are already protected by each other and we are just going to keep bathing them in love. While we keep loving, our neighborhoods crumble, our schools remain underfunded, and our people continue to suffer and die, as well.

I do not care what is in a person’s heart. I care about dismantling a system that says I am disposable. If a system relies on “good personhood” for my life to matter, that system is already broken and no amount of love will fix it.

Loving our children means being honest with them and truly preparing them for the world they live in. When we lie to them and say they won’t have any problems if they do all the right things, we are not helping them, we are actually making things worse for them. We are sending them into the lions’ den with nothing more than a smile for protection. Many of us have been shocked and confused by our first ugly encounter with police, despite saying “yes, sir” one hundred times in our most timid voice. Some are so caught off guard they experience a nervous breakdown because they never imagined they would be in such grave danger. Why set our children up this way? They not only need to know the truth and how to move in such an environment, they need to be ready to dismantle and replace the system that would treat them as less than human.

I have written about the ridiculousness of respectability politics, the futility of forgiveness and the cluelessness of some in the Black Middle Class, so I won’t belabor those points. Please understand, none of those ideas will save us, and neither will love. We cannot love our way into full citizenship in a country that was built by trying to destroy us at every turn. We cannot love our way into economic empowerment. We cannot love resources into our neighborhoods that have literally been stolen. Love in our eyes won’t stop police brutality. All love does for us is make us easier targets. We don’t need love, we need action.

#SSJCon What’s Next: How can secular women of color help our communities?

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This past weekend at the Secular Social Justice Conference held in Houston, I was honored to serve on a diverse panel of secular women to discuss feminism in the secular movement, specifically as it pertains to women of color. Moderated by writer and educator Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, we discussed the unique challenges faced by secular feminists of color within the atheist community. Note, I’m using the “of color” verbiage because our panel included two African American women, myself and AJ Word of Secular Sistahs, one Filipina, Maggie Ardiente of the American Humanist Association, and one former Muslim, Heina Dadabhoy of Heinous Dealings on Freethought Blogs. 

During the discussion, it was noted that most of us see erasure as a huge problem in the secular movement. Many white atheists believe they are so rational in their approach, they couldn’t possibly be racist or sexist. That belief leads to lost opportunities for having serious conversations about the treatment many women of color receive within atheist circles, and society at large. Spokesperson/tokenism and tone policing are also issues we face in these white-dominated spaces, as well as outright targeting and harassment. Of course, a lack of empathy for urgent social justice issues is a major concern, as many white atheists only see science education and separation of church and state as worthwhile issues to address.  

With these challenges in the secular movement, coalition building outside of the movement was considered as an alternative for social justice work. With the history of violence against women (mentally and physically,) is it worth it to attempt to form bonds with progressive religious organizations? While I know individual progressive Christians willing to step up and work with secular organizations, I must admit I’m hesitant to work with Christian organizations because of their inherent misogyny. Black women in Christian churches are many times oppressed BY the church while doing most of the actual work IN the church. As a person living with Post Traumatic Church Syndrome as a result of church abuse, part of my self care includes avoiding churches altogether. Beyond that, I wonder (like plenty of other secularists) if religious organizations want to work with us? We are godless heathens, after all. 

My solution to this conundrum is to focus on organizing secular women of color to fight for ourselves. As an extension of the self determination I have as a black woman, my determination to fight for secular, feminist, black women is just as strong. We can do this for ourselves, and seeing the beautiful faces at #SSJCon simply reinforced this reality. I had never been in a space filled with so many atheists of color, much less atheist women of color. Some were life-long nonbelievers, and some, like me, deconverted after being unable to ignore the contradictions of religion. We were all there, together, seeking solutions to the problems that plague our communities and it was amazing.

So what do we do next? How do we harness this power of godless black and brown women to change the trajectory of our lives and communities?

First, we need to start in our own homes, families and communities by becoming visible as much as we can. Those of us who have children need to teach them about not only reason and logic, but gender and racial equality. All of us must live our lives authentically, existing unapologetically in our truth as secular feminists and humanists. When we are not afraid to live our lives this way, when we speak up against injustice and give voice to a segment of society that is invisible, we not only make it visible, but we make it plausible, as well. Seeing our fearless declaration of “good without god, equality for all” helps others who feel isolated because they hold the same ideas, but have never seen anyone like them represented in the movement. This is why organizations such as Secular Sistahs and the Women’s Leadership Project are so important. These groups not only provide us with a safe space away from misogynists both in and outside of secularism and our ethnic groups, but they also make visible a segment of secularism that is terribly underrepresented. 

Secondly, we need to reach out to black and Latina women especially, regardless of social status, and provide the support they traditionally seek (and don’t always find) in the church. Of course, some churches provide services, but many are just as emotionally damaging as an abusive relationship. Just as in those situations, we need to be there to provide support and a way out. Not just emotional support, but real, tangible help in the form of financial aid, educational aid, housing assistance, and the like. As some have said before me, if we want to reach them, we must provide a better alternative to what they perceive they are already getting through traditional religious organizations.

Finally, there is a need to go into schools, create community programs and increase support of secular student groups. More and more young people are rejecting religion and embracing equality, but they need our support. There are ministers in some schools on a weekly basis, under the guise of motivational talks. The same needs to be done for secular students, girls especially, so we can counteract the narratives they are receiving and reassure them that feminism isn’t scary or mean. It is simply equality and we deserve it.

An Open Letter to Donald Wright, and the Board of Houston Black Nonbelievers Part 1

  

Many times, when we as women are wronged, we speak out carefully, choosing our words as thoughtfully as possible to avoid any semblance of anger or resentment. We, especially black women who have been taught to avoid being labeled an angry black woman at all costs, allow others to go on with their lives as we struggle with the treatment given to us. We fear being shunned, labeled, and misunderstood while those who have wronged us go on as if their behavior was acceptable.

We (read: I) really need to stop that shit.

Donald Wright has not only wronged me, but continues to do so by dismissing my valid anger, and my very agency over my own space. That stops immediately.

As board chairman of Houston Black Nonbelievers, Donald decided it was in the best interest of the group to continue communications with a person who was known to be problematic in his belief that all the ills of the world could be solved by eradicating capitalism. This man’s belief wasn’t the problem, his refusal to understand a black organization’s mission could not be solely based on class, his bombardment of members with emailed rhetoric and his ultimate harassment and fixation on me were the problems. Despite all of this, Donald invited this man to come back to the group months later, starting up another round of harassing communication to the entire board and most specifically, me. Donald said nothing while this was going on, deciding to put the matter on the next board agenda instead. At the next board meeting, Donald feigned ignorance about why this man would start contacting us again, knowing full well he had been in contact with him, which he conveniently admitted later in pieces that are probably still incomplete.

I let Donald and the board know this was unacceptable. Whomever would go behind our backs and invite this man neither cared about the organization or me personally and I would not work with such a person or group. One board member, Carl, suggested banning the man. That was the closest point during the whole ordeal I came to having anyone support or stand up for me. Unfortunately, that moment was fleeting.

Also during the discussion, board member Andrew had this to say, “Well, I mean, I can understand him being a little upset. When Deanna breaks something down, she breaks it down.”

Wow. Even months later, that little gem of victim blaming drivel still stings. So, I am somehow to blame for my own harassment because I can articulate problems so they are easily understood? This was the moment I felt the beginning of being painted as an overbearing, angry black woman unable to see both sides or be reasonable. This was when I began to realize these people, whom I had worked with to grow the organization for nearly two years, truly did not care about me as an individual, as a fellow black person, or as a woman.

Even so, the most devastating moment of that meeting was yet to come. Donald, in his most misogynistic, paternalistic moment, looked at the only other woman on the board and said, “Candice, AS A WOMAN, what do you think about this?” 

As I wrote in the previous post, I was livid. I couldn’t believe he was trying to validate my personal experience through another woman. How dare he attempt to silence or subdue me by invoking how another woman would feel in a hypothetical situation? How dare he? 

Well, dared he did and his error was met with my rage. I explained why what he did and said were wrong, misogynistic and completely out of line. Of course, my rage was met with bewilderment at this point. I had been driven right into the stereotype I had fought most of my life not to become, hadn’t I? 

No, I had not. I had not because the angry black woman is a stereotype meant to silence us, to strip us of our right to be angry at injustice, to stop us from protecting ourselves while others leave us unprotected. It’s a caricature that strips us of our power and our ability to boldly say “NO.” No, I will not accept this treatment. No, I did nothing to deserve this harassment. No, I will not be quiet when my very safety is in jeopardy. No.

I said no very loudly and clearly that day, and in doing so, I left that meeting immediately, knowing I could not trust any one in that room with my best interest.

But wait, there’s more. To my dismay, I ran into the board and some members a couple of hours later at a local restaurant. Donald’s response? “Oh, Deanna is mad at me, heh. You know I didn’t mean it that way, though.”

Don’t ever tell a person you have wronged what they know. They know you wronged them, that is all. This statement reflected the dismissive attitude Donald had and still has towards me. He either truly still doesn’t understand his error, or he truly doesn’t care and just wants to put on a fake smile in public. Either way, I want no parts of it.

Another stinging reality born of this situation is the fact that the other board members who witnessed (and took part) in this discussion, those who could not be bothered to stand up for me, those whom I worked with side by side, those who supported my wonderful ideas prior to this meeting, were nowhere to be found after. When I officially resigned a few days later, I didn’t hear from any of them. Not the one who initially suggested banning the harasser, not the woman who ran downstairs in tears because she knew how it felt to be harassed and unheard, not the man who suggested I bore some blame because I know how to “break it down.” These people, whom I considered friends, all abandoned me in the name of what exactly? I still don’t know.

The freethought community in Texas is relatively small, more so the black freethought community, so even though I want nothing more to do with Donald Wright or Houston Black Nonbelievers under his leadership, I understand our paths will cross. I am more than capable of continuing my activism in this community without avoiding him at all costs. Be that as it may, Donald’s behavior at a meeting we both attended today was unacceptable and the reason I broke my silence and wrote this piece.

After the meeting was over, Donald was invited by the speaker to be a part of our group photo. He walked to my side of the line, put his arm around me and said, “You don’t mind, do you Deanna?” With my smile intact, I said “I most certainly do” and he moved to the other side of the line immediately.

Donald. Do not ever touch me again. Do not think that your easy dismissal of my thoughts, words and requests grant you the right to invade my personal space without my permission. Do not ever forget that this black woman will not be cajoled or bullied into silence. Do not underestimate my resolve to fight for freethinkers, the black community, women and myself. Understand that your error today was the catalyst for breaking my silence, and I suggest you not make that mistake again.

Misogynoir and Invalidation

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Recently, I have had the distinct pleasure of being obsessed over by an unhinged white man. My crime? Explaining to him being an ally means not trying to take over black spaces with your ideology and views. (I even blogged about it in this piece to be perfectly clear.) He didn’t appreciate my concerns with his one track mind, and has apparently been waiting for an apology for months now.

Even though his various obsessions were obvious, and all of our interactions were public, people in my circle were still taken aback when he resurfaced this week. He began antagonizing a group of us while continually demanding an apology from me as if 9 months hadn’t passed since our last interaction. Then, it became clear: instead of letting him quietly go away, someone decided it was in their best interest to extend an invitation to this man who had shown himself to be unreasonable at best, downright unwell at worst.

Ok, that’s fine. I can’t tell people whom they should be friends with, right? In personal spaces, no, I can’t. Let’s look a little deeper, though. This man has shown himself to be more concerned with specific economic institutions than with issues affecting the black community. He has repeatedly sung the song of “we all bleed red,” while attempting to erase the plight of black Americans. He has shown little value to this organization tasked with helping the black community. So why the open door policy?

After the latest onslaught of harassment, I very specifically demanded he stop contacting me personally. I informed him any messages after that would be considered harassment. Guess what? He didn’t stop. The aforementioned circle decided the best course of action would be to discuss the situation in person without him ostensibly to analyze it and move forward.

During the course of this discussion, I made it very clear I do not feel safe around this individual. The actions he has taken and his obsession with me in particular make me nervous about his propensity to snap and cause harm. You would think that would be enough, but you would be wrong.

Apparently, when a black woman tells you someone is crazy and not to be trusted, you must take another 30 minutes to decide if she’s overreacting. When she tells you whomever decided to extend an invitation to him obviously doesn’t give a damn about her, she is being dramatic. You must repeat ad nauseum, “I just never thought” to assuage your lack of attention paying skills. Then, to add insult to injury, when said black woman explains all of these issues to you, you must ask another black woman if she would feel the same way in a similar situation, potentially causing the second black woman pain as she’s forced to relieve the many times she has felt unprotected in much the same way.

This is NOT ok, nor is it acceptable in any way. When you have watched a man antagonize and harass a woman, when you have watched a white man harass a black woman and that woman tells you she doesn’t feel safe, you take her seriously! Women have had to endure all manner of damage in this country and we are generally astute at spotting potential danger. My triggers may be different than others, but I will not allow anyone to attempt to invalidate my concerns. Attempting to invalidate them using another woman’s lived experience is grossly despicable and should never be allowed.

And that’s what I learned about misogynoir and invalidation today.

Houston Needed a HERO, It Got Christians Instead

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When I was sixteen years old and in Dallas attending a Baptist Convention (not to be confused with the Southern Baptist Convention because segregation still rules in church), I was left alone in a bathroom at Ryan’s, a local buffet restaurant. While washing my hands, a large, tall white man came out of one of the two stalls and I was terrified. Nearly twenty-four years later, I can still see him trying to shush me and screaming as I had to take a step towards him to open the door of the tiny restroom and run out. He ran behind me as I went to my church group in terror. The waitress and manager of the restaurant recognized him as a regular with developmental delays and tried to assure us he must have just wandered into the wrong restroom, froze in the stall when he heard girls’ voices, then tried to exit quietly not knowing I was still there.

I know bathroom terror intimately. This is one of the reasons it infuriates me that the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was not approved by popular vote because conservative Christian pastors banded together to mislabel it a bathroom ordinance and used the mantra “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms” as a battle cry. It was not just false and misleading, it was these Christians flat out lying to preserve their brand of control and injustice.

Which leads me to the actual point of this piece. Over fifty percent of the discrimination reported in Houston is race based, yet black pastors all over the city not only refused to endorse this ordinance, they actively campaigned against it. They actively campaigned against a piece of legislation that would have protected them and their congregations from discrimination, or at least given them a local ordinance to use in litigation. Let that sink in for a moment. These black pastors were so worried about transgender Houstonians using the restroom they encouraged their parishioners to shoot themselves in the foot. In the name of Jesus at that.

This is why Christianity has never been anything more than another tool of white supremacy. Introduced to the slave, it has been and continues to be used to control the black community. Label anything with Jesus and you don’t even have to try hard to gain control. Racist, homophobic white pastors told the black pastors this ordinance would take away their freedom to discriminate against “the gays,” and the black pastors concluded the best way to protect against that was to emulate Jesus and die on the cross along side them. In other words, it was more important to be able to hurt the LGBTQ community than to help themselves. That is pathetic and it is wrong.

Passing HERO should have been an easy decision based on human decency. Instead, white supremacy, homophobia and transphobia won out easily because…Jesus.

Spring Valley High and the School to Prison Pipeline

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There has been a lot of talk about the teen girl violently attacked by a school resource officer in South Carolina this week. The attack at Spring Valley High School sheds more light on the school to prison pipeline, an issue I have covered extensively and continue to advocate against. Zero tolerance policies, coupled with criminal truancy policies and the increased presence of police officers in schools is a volatile mix that leads to the introduction of mostly black and brown bodies into the criminal justice system as children. Once this happens, students are more likely to drop out of high school and be involved in the criminal justice system as adults. 

Another aspect of this case that’s finally gaining attention is the treatment of black girls in particular. Studies show black children on the whole are seen as less innocent than their peers, and black girls are seen as argumentative and ill-mannered when engaging in the same behavior called assertive in white girls. These attitudes bear out when you note black girls are more than 6 times more likely to face out of school suspension than white girls. Strikingly, the differences in perception and discipline begin as early as pre-kindergarten. We have to acknowledge this data and end both the automatic perception of wrongdoing and the disproportionate discipline meted out to these children if we’re ever going to get serious about saving our girls.

Zero tolerance in this case shows up as an aggressive school resource officer summoned to attack a girl over chewing gum or a cell phone. These infractions rarely cause a child to be ejected from class, and should never be enough to even think about having her forcibly removed. To be crystal clear, this child did NOTHING to deserve to be removed from class, and NOTHING to deserve the physical beating she endured. Many who would say her “lack of respect” was a contributing factor don’t understand teenage psychology or common sense discipline practices. As a former high school teacher, I have seen actual fights between students resolved with nothing more than a stern look and soft hand on the back, with even softer words spoken in the ear. These are children. As many have said, if a parent went to the school and did what the officer did to this girl sitting quietly in her seat, they would have been arrested on site.

Finally, school resource officers in classrooms should be abolished immediately. These officers instill fear in children, especially those in neighborhoods (read: America) known to be hostile to black and brown people. Turning schools into mini prisons, complete with metal detectors, barbed wire and guards is psychologically detrimental to students. It’s psychological warfare on black and brown children especially when you consider the harshest schools are in their communities. How can one be open to learning when everything around you screams “criminal?” Every interaction these children have continually tells them they aren’t valued, then they are assaulted at school for being human. This has to stop, and it has to stop now.

(originally posted on Freethinking Femmes)

On Middle Class Black America

One of the most exhausting things about fighting for revolution is convincing the oppressed they are indeed oppressed. Time after time, I have been told by other black people things “aren’t that bad” and I’m just blowing these societal ills out of proportion. This is understandable coming from white people. They benefit from the white power structure and have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. I don’t expect anything different. When it comes from other black people; however, I want to tear my hair out in frustration. I’ve been hesitant to call these people out, being raised to keep our business at home. It’s time to air this dirty laundry, though, because it stinks to high heaven.

My people, obtaining educational degrees does not insulate you from racism. How many college graduates are still denied jobs because of “black sounding” names?

Getting your dream job, or a nice middle class farm/cubicle position does not solidify your place in white society.  How many times have CEOs been mistaken for the help or had security called because they look suspicious?

Using said job to get a nice car doesn’t help either. We already know how that actually worsens the problem in many areas. Police officers scoff at your black body behind the steering wheel of a car deemed too nice, so you’re actually harassed more often.

Leaving these areas and heading for the suburbs offers no respite unfortunately. While it’s made extraordinarily more difficult to get a decent loan and reasonably priced insurance, you are still unwelcome and watched more closely than your neighbors after you clear those hurdles.

At every step of the way, you are still a black person in America, and can be treated as such at any given moment. Hiding in middle class America doesn’t change any of it. You may be statistically less likely to die of gang violence, but where can you go in this country to escape the gang in blue? Only being honest about the problem will lead to revolution and lasting change.

There is a problem, by the way. Even if nothing ever happens to you personally, which is highly unlikely, there is a problem. You had to jump over many hurdles others stumbled on, you had some walls lowered for whatever reason while others ran straight into it, and by some combination of hard work, determination, luck, birthright, knowing someone or simply letting you in so they don’t seem racist, you “made” it. Congratulations. There is still a problem, though.

Anytime it’s acceptable to shoot 12 year old black boys for playing in the park, there is a problem. When 22 year old black men can’t walk through Walmart with their in-store merchandise without getting shot by police, there is a problem. If driving around your alma mater and daring to ask why you are being harassed or allegedly stealing a cell phone results in jailhouse “suicides” for black women there is definitely a problem. When death sentences exist for selling cigarettes, failing to signal, and not speaking nicely to cops, there is a huge problem and no, you are not immune.

Let’s be clear: your success does not make them respect us, and yes, things are that bad. Use your status and help us change things before we have to protest for you and yours. Better yet, use your humanity and blackness to show some empathy and fight this unjust system with us.

On Incremental Change vs. Revolution

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First and foremost, let’s be clear: we need a revolution. We (black people in the United States of America) need to get up and demand a complete overhaul of just about everything. The criminal justice system needs to stop targeting us with more frequent arrests and harsher sentencing. Police officers need to stop shooting us dead in the streets. Banks need to stop giving us subprime loans (or baselessly denying them altogether) and continuing the legacy of redlining. Healthcare needs to be accessible to all. Schools need to teach our children instead of pushing them out to the criminal justice system as soon as possible. Violence against us needs to be punished instead of excused and/or celebrated. The list of demands is long.

What do we do in the interim, though? While demanding change and educating others do we opt out of everything we have been doing up to this point? Should we take an all or nothing approach, or travel on parallel paths simultaneously?

Many believe we should work within the system that is currently available. This means we participate in the political process, vote with our spending dollars, and make our wishes known to those in power, even trying to become powerful by running for political offices. Those who advocate for this approach see it as the best and most lasting way to enact change. Their mantra is “We have a good system. We just need to make it work for us.” Those who abhor this approach; however, rightfully remind us this system was not created with our best interest in mind in the first place. They insist it is futile to try to work within a system literally built to kill you. Colonialism, imperialism and racism are inextricably tied together so that any attempt to dissolve the bond will dissolve everything, including this very country. 

Others believe that dissolution is exactly what we need. In order to create a place where we are truly free, we must first destroy the place that cannot stop itself from harming us. That requires revolution. Difficult, uncomfortable, unmitigated revolution. This group believes there is no way to ever be truly free in this country unless we burn it down and start over from scratch. It’s easy to imagine what opponents of this ideology would say. Very few people are willing to endure the sacrifices required of revolutionaries.

In the words of precocious three-year-olds everywhere, why not both? Why can’t we engage in whittling away at injustices one by one as we prepare to demolish them for once and for all? Why not vote every time a vote is taken to make sure your voice is heard, while understanding this act may be a temporary band aid to real change? Why not invest in black-owned businesses now, so that the revolution can be properly funded by our own community? Why would we not volunteer to sit on juries in order to hold rogue officers accountable now and ensure our people aren’t railroaded and sent to prison at alarming rates? 

Yes, the game is rigged and the deck stacked against us, but that doesn’t mean we refuse to play when our very lives are at stake. Regardless of how we got here, this is our home, too. We have every right to fight for justice from within and without. We need people with experience in all levels of government, education, finance, and law enforcement, and not because we are naïve enough to believe they can save us. We need them because we need all hands on deck, working towards the same goals. When we have a common vision, everyone can do their part so that when the dust settles, we can build a society that works for us.