If Black innocence never exists to the state, how can passivism and perfect victimhood save us?

[Banner photo: A headline from The Daily Kos seeming to play up the fact that Jordan Edwards was unarmed and an “honor roll student”]

By Zoé Samudzi

On May 20, Richard Collins III, a young Black soon-to-be graduate of Bowie State University, was murdered by Sean Urbanski, a member of a white supremacist Facebook group called Alt-Reich Nation, whilst waiting for an Uber. The murder will be investigated as a hate crime. In the wake of recent emboldenings of white nationalists across the country, Black Americans are increasingly caught between a state and non-state white supremacist hard place. What does it mean when our sense of freedom and liberation is tied up, in the words of Shannon Houston, in having been trained to negotiate with terrorists?

Behind Amy Schumer’s ‘Get Out’ joke: The horrible legacy of claiming the Black phallus endangers white women

By Sherronda Brown

Amy Schumer is racist, and white women love her. The White Feminist icon’s most recent public display of Beckery is yet another demonstration of the sexual racism she so often falls back into, using racist stereotypes benefitting her white womanhood while decrying the sexual proclivities of men of color.

Two weeks ago, when asked about past instances of her own rude behavior in the bedroom in an interview with Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens: Live, Schumer answered: “A guy had an uncircumcised penis and it was too big and I just was like ‘Peace!’ Like, I got out. I got right out of there. I was like, ‘I’m not going to be deformed because I had sex with you once.’ That’s what the movie Get Out should have been about.”

Revolutionary Poetry for Edward Crawford

By Lamont Lilly

Poetry has long sustained Black people. And, its role in the revolutionary work of freedom fighters cnnot be denied.

These poems are meant to be angry. They are also reminders to keep pushing, keep fighting and keep supporting each other, as we all seek the liberation and justice we so deserve. The last piece, “Sister Amina” is an ode to the Black women who brought us over — the aunties, the grandmothers, the nannies, the domestic workers. We certainly can never forget them!

This submission is dedicated to Edward Crawford  — the soldier, thewarrior, the fallen.


message from the grassroots

in spite of your tanks

teargas and detention centers.

your prisons, tasers and paid informants.

there will still be honor, love and understanding.

there will still be giving, justice and solidarity.

there will still be life

in the ghetto

worth living.

black babies will still be born

taught to hate you.

black poets will still launch words

meant to kill.


rank and file

bring your homemade signs

on cardboard

and wooden sticks.

bring your mic and megaphone

to loan voice.

bring your rocks

and molotov cocktails

in case they bring it.

bring your fire

for the teargas

that’s sure to come.

tell the scouts

to stay awake out there

we’re depending on them.

bring the women

so we can stand together

and fire back.


black seeds

from the master’s huts

slave quarters

and humble slums

grew strong men.

from the open fields

war kitchens

and vast auction blocks

grew diamond rocks.

from their battered hopes

and buried dreams

grew wildflowers

that refused to bow

bend

or be broken.


American Gothic by Gordon Parks

American Gothic by Gordon Parks

sister amina

(inspired by Gordon Parks and “American Gothic”)

she was amazing

stunning, actually.

beautiful like the kind

you don’t see very often.

even with that iron

dish towel

and heavy vacuum cleaner.

even with that

broom and dust pan

in her left hand.

black. proud.

working.

serving.

cleaning for ms. jane

cuz she was too dang lazy.

but still

she was amazing

stunning, actually.

beautiful like the kind

you don’t see very often.

so beautiful

even the dirt, grease

and ms. jane

couldn’t hide her.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Lamont Lilly. All rights reserved.


Lamont Lilly was the 2016 Workers World Party Vice-Presidential Candidate. In 2015 he was an Indy Week “Citizen Award” winner for his activism and journalism. The presented selections are from his forthcoming debut Honor in the Ghetto. Plain but poignant, his poetry directly derives from the marginalized, from the streets of mass struggle, from the Black experience and U.S. South.

Reading came first: how I journeyed from hotep to Black queer feminist

By Myles E. Johnson

“Solitude can be a must-be-desired condition. In silence, we listen to ourselves, and in the quietude we may even hear the voice of God.” – Maya Angelou

The search, as it were, began in wanting to deep-dive into something that was about me, and it began early. I wanted a nappy-headed God. I wanted a history dipped in tar, baby, and I wanted to know about political leaders with Jackson 5 nostrils. This history was not being served to me anywhere, so I reimagined my middle-school classes as spaces for me to find this new world where I was the sun, where I was centered. While my teacher taught the day’s arithmetic, I was slowly, quietly being radicalized by the contents of books. With each page turn, a bomb exploded, and a window was being opened, and nobody was any the wiser.

The authors that I discovered–including Alex Haley, Frederick Douglass, and WEB Dubois–are part of what guided my 13 year-old brain into the place it is currently, and where it is developing into. However, I had a desire for something that made sense of the world I was occupying the way religion does for a new initiate.

EVENT: Solidarity Economy Organizing in a Moment of Resistance

Popular struggles– ranging from earliest modern labor movements in Britain and the US, to the global Black Liberation movement, to Energiewende and other climate justice campaigns in Europe– have all demonstrated that to be successful, “resistance” work must go hand in hand with concrete visionary organizing.
 
Join the New Economy Coalition – a network of 180+ organizations building solidarity for a new economy – next Wednesday, May 17th from 7:30pm – 9:30pm for an exciting discussion co-hosted by In These Times Magazine exploring the movement to build a “new” or “solidarity” economy in the current moment of resistance and struggle.
 

A New World From The Ashes Of The Old: Solidarity Economy Organizing In a Moment of Resistance

 
The panel features leaders from across the country sharing how their communities have organized to simultaneously fight back far-right attacks and build powerful bottom-up solutions that model economic democracy, sustainability, and social justice as cornerstones of a new world in waiting.
 
Panelists include:
Harper Bishop – Open Buffalo
Iya Ifalola Omobola – Cooperation Jackson
Amara Enyia – Public Policy Expert
Anand Jahi – New Economy Coalition (Moderator)
 
Learn more and RSVP on the event page: www.facebook.com/events/119407401950823
Bank Black Movement OneUnited

Yes, Black liberals commodify Black Lives Matter too and it’s a major problem

By Blake Simons

The present day Movement for Black Lives, which I argue was revived by the people of Oakland after the murder of Oscar Grant, and came into fruition because of the rebellion that working class Black folks started in Ferguson after the murder of Mike Brown, has been co-opted by Black capitalistic neo-liberals.

Miley Cyrus finally announces the end of her minstrel show, proving once and for all the violence of appropriation

By Sherronda Brown

“When I want something, it’s fucking easy for me.” – Miley Cyrus, the self-ordained savior of our nation

The words “Dumpster Fyre” hover above the head of Miley Cyrus on the cover of Billboard Magazine. Even though they refer to the debacle at Fyre Festival in which rich white kids were finessed out of thousands of dollars and found themselves in a trash pile with bologna sandwiches rather than at the lavish resort they were promised, these words are perhaps more fitting for the interview with the 24-year-old.

via Billboard Magazine

Billboard explains that the Disney Alum “has left behind the pasties, hip-hop bangerz and, yes, weed for her new incarnation: countrified singer-songwriter and hopeful unifier of a divided nation.” Standing among waist-high greenery with her hands in her free-flowing hair, Miley dons a simple pink farm girl dress with frilly lace about the sleeves and bodice. The expression on her face is plain and unassuming. Save for the sporadic miniature tattoos peppering the length of her arms, she is a vision of white Southern Belle innocence and propriety.

Ashanti Hunter

Why seeing the murder of Ashanti Hunter as anti-Black violence does not distract us from fighting for Black men and boys

By Treva Lindsey

Often, there is an alarming silence around the deaths of Black women. From the under-reported murders of Black women by their former or current partners to the vicious and specific targeting of Black trans* women, the killings of Black women rarely garner sustained media coverage, substantive rallying cries, or formidable mobilization and organizing from people other than Black women and gender non-conforming/fluid people.

How Jesse Williams’ divorce highlights the way white-supremacist beauty standards affect relationships

By Catherine Imani

By now, you’re probably aware of the fact that Jesse Williams and his wife Aryn Drake-Lee are divorcing after 5 years of marriage and 15 total together. This is not an article about their divorce, because no one knows what is going on inside of their home but them. This is about the ways beauty politics affect relationships–especially relationships in which one person is more attractive by the general society’s standards than the other.

It’s no secret that Jesse fits many stereotypes for attractiveness. He has light skin, light eyes, he’s physically able and slim-thick with a cute ass. In short, he’s “Hollywood pretty,” and that on top of his acting and social justice politics made him very popular among black women specifically.

Jesse was able to leverage that popularity into speaking engagements, interviews and job opportunities. His wife, on the other hand, while gorgeous and intelligent, is not the kind of woman usually seen in Hollywood. And Hollywood is a microcosm, where the ideals and standards of white supremacy, cis heteropatiarchy, fatphobia, colorism and ableism are magnified.

If the rumors are true, it would be no surprise that a fellow “Hollywood pretty” white woman led to the demise of Williams’ marriage.

Again, this isn’t about the couple’s divorce. But any conversation about love, relationships and community is not complete without talking about who is good enough to love, and how that is often directly tied to what is defined as beautiful in our white supremacist society.

Those of us who are not beautiful enough to love are often left with the opposite: violence and abuse. The fact is, although Jesse leaving his black wife for a white woman might be surprising given his seeming embrace of black feminism, it still fits the trend of “when (a black man) get on, he leave (a black woman’s) ass for a white girl,” which is compounded by the larger trend of “attractive person benefits from the love and labor and resources of their less attractive partner only to discard them when they don’t need those things anymore.” There are so many songs, movies and books normalizing this concept, that its effects on the larger society cannot be ignored.

Studies have shown that black women are viewed as being the least desirable across racial categories. Even within the black community, what is defined as desirable mirrors white supremacists standards. Beauty is often talked about in opposition to blackness, and is instead aligned with whiteness and everything whiteness represents.

Because of this, the pressures around beauty for black women are more pronounced. It makes sense that our community exalts the light-skinned, “mixed”/non-black/exotic, cis, abled, and/or slim women, but what goes ignored are all of the ways that beauty is more than skin deep. Beauty–read: how much a black woman aligns with the white supremacist standard–can be a deciding factor in getting a raise, and changes how that woman is perceived by her coworkers or even the judicial system.

In my community, it was very common for young men who were down on their luck to date women who did not meet social beauty standards but had an apartment or a car. They would dog them out the entire time or spread malicious rumors about them, and then when they were financially stable they would leave them. The women are usually much worse off financially than they were when they first met these men.

When I was more gender nonconforming in my presentation, men would threaten to “beat me like the man I thought I was.” I know many women who did not meet society’s attractiveness standard and have had to physically fight men who would never dream of hitting a non-black woman or black woman they deemed attractive. (And that is not to say that only women who are not stereotypically beautiful are abused, but that their abuse is treated differently than that of other women).

This dynamic is especially evident in the responses to the recent Cleveland Shooting regarding the woman the shooter abused. Once people found out who she was and, more specifically, what she looked like, some noted how weird the shooter was for being homicidal over a woman as unattractive as her. Still others blamed her for his violence and tried to threaten her into contacting him.

Image Descriotion: A screenshot of a Facebook post of a selfie of Joy Lane under the text: “Joy Lane please take that milk dud nigga back you not even all that to be curving bruhh like that you got this nigga going around tripping call this nigga and apologize or i’m fucking you up dude yo peanut head ass bitch you horse teeth dry weave stale ass bitch you betta take him back @Joy Lane.” Joy Lane was tagged by the poster.

 

Image Description: A screenshot of a Facebook message to Joy Lane that reads: “Aye hoe call that nigga Stevie , so he can stop killing ppl!!!!”

Her deviance from the standard of beauty made her someone that a lot of people were unable and unwilling to empathize with. It made her someone that a majority of people did not see as deserving of love, safety or affection. It made people think of her as less worthy of life than the people he could have potentially killed (because I do not believe that she would have survived another 3 years if the shooter hadn’t killed himself).

When a black woman who doesn’t meet the standard of beauty is in a relationship, she is blamed for any failings in that relationship. He cheated? Her fault. He abuses her? Her fault. He leaves her after 15 years of commitment? Her fault, because what should she expect?

When news broke that Jesse was leaving his wife, many people commented that they could see why. One’s alignment to these white supremacist beauty standards has very real consequences on how black women are viewed and treated.

Movement’s like #BlackOut and #DisabledAndCute, and the efforts of black women on social media challenge beauty being about one’s alignment to whiteness and redefine it in a way that is more inclusive. Although this is an issue that can never be resolved quickly, conversations like this help. As Jesse Williams said himself, “Now, this is also in particular for the black women … who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you”.

Further reading:

Romantic Love is Killing Us: Who Takes Care of Us When We’re Single?

What It’s Really Like To Be A Trans Woman

Society (And My Rapist) Says I’m Too Ugly To Be Raped


Catherine Imani is a queer disabled black femme based in Atlanta, Ga. They love art and science and are passionate about social justice and equality. Tip them at paypal.me/catherineimani .

Henrietta Lacks

Oprah Winfrey brings power and emotion to ‘The Immortal Henrietta Lacks’

By Imani J. Jackson

If nothing else, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a cautionary tale conveyed cinematically.

The HBO film, which premiered Saturday, April 22nd, and is based on Rebecca Skloot’s bestselling book of the same name, presented an incrementally improving story about Lacks, an African American woman whose cells changed history.

George C. Wolfe directed the film, which presented Lacks’ life primarily through her daughter Deborah, portrayed by Oprah Winfrey and partially through Skloot, portrayed by Rose Byrne. The Immortal Life demonstrated personal power along with a story about medical misrepresentation, female friendship and race.

Initially, I was unsure whether this film would live up to expectation. Would the star-studded team project an intricate and intimate story of a Black woman whose cells innovated medical science  — including in vitro fertilization, the AIDS cocktail, the impacts of radiation and toxic substances and more? Would they render Lacks human, even though her cells continuously multiply, as if a higher power placed limitless potential in her?

At first blush, the characters seemed like stereotypes on steroids. But, as time continued, the utility of the stereotypes came to the forefront. Viewers saw cackling medical experts (read: mad scientists). Viewers saw Skloot as a harried white female reporter who was sometimes savior and sometimes sisterly. Viewers saw a religious, respectable, angry, close-knit and skeptical Black family with every reason to have each of these characteristics and then some. As the story unfolded, I was reminded that stereotypes do not fit everyone. However, they certainly fit some.

The medical experts seemed to compromise Lacks’ humanity through taking her cancerous cells without her or her family’s permission. They did not offer or award financial compensation for the human matter from which many of them profited. Instead, their actions offered a commentary on Columbusing and its scope.

More than just the feigned discovery of people or places that already have histories, Johns Hopkins Hospital staff extended their exploration into biomedical human material. These medical professionals’ cell harvesting can be likened to “ghost values”, when white settlers affixed prices to enslaved African people’s bodies after the Africans died.

When Johns Hopkins staffers said things like, “Would you patent the Sun?” in relation to stealthily stealing from Lacks, white medical professionals’ privilege and immoral practices were re-emphasized. And yet, these actions simultaneously reflected the experts’ own inhumanity.

The Immortal Life showed medical communities’ poisonous histories of negligence and malfeasance in vulnerable communities. The film referenced the American government’s unethical experiment on another group of Black people in the South, the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” In The Immortal Life, the doctors and hospital employees were portrayed in ugly ways because their actions were ugly.

Conversely, Oprah Winfrey’s performance was beautiful. She brought depth, vitality and community wisdom to Deborah, Lacks’s daughter. Winfrey conveyed inter-racial tensions, that smart people are not always formally educated, and a spiritual connection with her deceased mother and sister.

By having the world’s most respected journalist amplify a Black woman whose cells propelled science into uncharted terrain, Winfrey reminded viewers and creators to dig deeper for stories. Further, unlike those who profited from the Lacks family without their blessing, Deborah actually wanted Oprah to portray her, since Oprah could not play Henrietta. (Watch around the 6:40 minute mark).

Thematically the film portrayed female friendship. Viewers spent substantial time with Deborah and Rebecca. So much emphasis was placed here that a legitimate concern arose: whether Skloot is centered, instead of Lacks in Lacks’ story.

Skloot showed curiosity and journalistic diligence. She was also an overly eager to record reporter. Her character was crafted toward likability in that she was not moneyed. Skloot did not seem to have much beyond the ordinary capital of whiteness. The reporter’s bill-juggling, document diving and late nights positioned her as a good white person, which contrasted with the others whose careers sketchily jumped off from HeLa cells.

I understand frustration with Deborah and Rebecca’s relationship, but also understand white viewers want to see white characters deploy their whiteness and work ethics to help people of color. To that end, the relationship seemed well intentioned albeit obligatory.

One of the more relatable race dynamics played out when Skloot was irritatingly casual with the Black family she grew to know and researched alongside. But that lack of formality is truthful. Rebecca often called Black people old enough to be her parents by their first names, even when they called her “Ms. Rebecca.” For all her friendship and persistence, she still reflected privilege.

Renée Elise Goldsberry portrayed Henrietta Lacks as a stunning, family-oriented and vibrant woman. I loved that Henrietta practiced self-care through beauty routines and displayed southern hospitality to people in her home. Henrietta was shown to viewers through flashbacks as an everyday Black beauty who knew her body and her family and lived with grace.

In the end, this story was necessary. However, the presentation was not faultless. The relationship between Deborah and Rebecca could have been deeper. The remaining Lacks family members could have seemed less knee-jerk. While I would award the film generally three stars out of five, Winfrey and Goldsberry’s performances deserve five stars out of five.


Imani J. Jackson is a columnist and policy adviser with Dynamic Education Foundation. She earned a mass communication B.A., with a journalism focus and psychology minor, from Grambling State University and a J.D. from Florida A&M University College of Law. She has written for a variety of publications including the Black Youth Project, USA Today, Teen Vogue and Politic365.