We can’t talk about Black Greek hazing without talking about slavery

By George Johnson

It’s been a few months since Netflix aired the controversial movie Burning Sands, written and directed by Omega Psi Phi member Gerard McMurray about the underground pledge process of Black Greek Letter Organizations (BLGOs). The violence displayed in the movie was at times over-the-top and in many scenes hard to watch, as a narrow lens focused on some of the worst parts of our illustrious Divine Nine organizations, erasing any hope of full context and comprehension around the needed discussion around hazing.

How two young Black Chicago women are using art and activism to change narratives about Black communities

“Fighting the system is a very big burden to take on” – Martinez Sutton, “Another Life”

The future of Chicago often seems uncertain as two factions within the city battle for power. The current mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and his supporters are continuing to push a narrative which supports the divestment from Black and Brown Chicagoans while many young activists have emphasized a narrative of people over profit. In that respect, two young Black women, Morgan Johnson and Eva Lewis, are working to recognize how uplifting others, creating space for marginalized groups, and embracing authenticity are just a few of the ways that The People can reclaim power over their lives and communities. 

Politics and Promposals—how isms and phobias influence who gets asked to the dance

In May, 17-year-old Priscilla Samey’s interesting high school story made rounds throughout social media. This happened not because of her impressive achievement of gaining admission into seven out of eight Ivy League institutions, but rather for escorting one of her admission letters––Harvard’s––to her senior prom. While many lauded her for such a “bold” move, others in comment feeds described her as “lame,” and even suggested that the very act of substituting her acceptance letter for a prom date revealed enough about her personality to understand why no one asked her to begin with.

The small Minnesota town where Ms. Samey went to high school is home to only a handful of other folks who look like her; only .04 percent of the population in Champlin Park, Minnesota is Black. Although there may have been numerous reasons why Ms. Samey was not asked or did not feel comfortable asking a peer to the dance, like most things, race cannot ruled out so easily.

Though the topic of race, dating, and attraction is a messy one, it is not hard to see how misogynoir may have been at work in the fact that no one––no one––asked this highly intelligent Black girl to prom. One can only hope that her chocolate skin, wide nose, and full lips were looked upon with admiration, but in a society that is yet to expand its conventional understandings of beauty to include Black women, particularly those of a darker hue, that may just be wishful thinking.

Did anyone look at her achievements and think, “I’d like to spend more time with her?” Hard to believe, as that same society that hesitates to recognize the beauty of women who look like her simultaneously perpetuates the misogynoiristic tropes that deem such accomplished and self-assured Back women “hysterical” and “intimidating.”

But rather than launch a commission into who was or was not infatuated with Priscilla Samey and why, my aim in discussing her story seeks instead to focus on the event itself: high school prom. Though seemingly trivial, the complexities surrounding prom, race, and gender are anything but—they matter for a variety of reasons.

To put it frankly, prom is a big deal for most young people. With its elaborate gowns, rented tuxedos, fancy cars and ritzy venues, this one night is the closest many people—especially those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder— will get to a red carpet event. A quick search on Pinterest will reveal just how much thought and planning an average teen puts into an event that lasts roughly four hours.

As innocent as it may seem, prom culture has absorbed almost all of the politics and prejudices that exist within society-at-large.

Along with anti-blackness, colorism, and misogynoir, beneath the veneer of high school fanfare lies the issue of the lack of acceptance of queer individuals within these spaces. Like clockwork, each year the months between February and June bring numerous stories of gay and lesbian teens either being forbade from attending prom with same-gender dates, or banned outright.

Therefore, who gets asked to the prom (or rather, who doesn’t) is a reflection of all of those ‘isms’ that perpetuate various forms of discrimination and social inequity.

In fact, the ACLU has devoted an entire section of their website to advising LGBTQIA youth on how to legally respond to such incidents of discrimination.

Aside from the rules that are (or aren’t) set in stone, there remain many unspoken boundaries and anxieties: can they kiss or dance on the dancefloor without fear of violence from homophobic classmates? Will there be drama over which bathroom they use? At the very least, can they enjoy the evening free from hostile stares and reactions? Why does their youthfulness and joy become something to fear and contain when they decide to embrace their full selves?

Then, of course, comes the fatphobia. Whether it manifests itself in the fitting rooms of the dress boutiques, or through internet reactions to the ever-scrutinized “prom photos,” larger bodies aren’t quite welcomed at prom with open arms, if at all.

And speaking of “open,” the issue of accessibility—both financial and physical—is often excluded from the conversation altogether. The most recent estimate of the average cost of prom hovers around $600.

That figure may even be on the lower end, as more and more teens are opting for hand-made gowns and pricey, luxury hair extensions. This is partly because, for some, prom truly might be the happiest, most elaborate night of their lives. And in the parts of the country where funerals have become more common than weddings or baby showers, one can better understand the urge to go over-the-top.

But where do poor teens fit into the equation?

Particularly the kids whose parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins don’t have the money to spare on a single evening of dress up? Do they attend anyway, bearing the mental weight of knowing that, due to circumstances outside of their control, they did not have the resources to #slay like the others around them did? Or do they just not attend at all?

Those who have physical disabilities have to go even further to ensure that they can even enter prom venues and transportation, as they are often relegated to forgotten-thought status by many of those responsible for organizing the festivities.

Even further, the trend known as “promposals”—defined by the Oxford Dictionary as an “elaborately staged request to be someone’s date to a prom”—has been criticized by some disabled individuals as being insulting and exploitative to members of their community. While the many views garnered by videos that show able-bodied teens pulling out all of the stops to ask their developmentally disabled or wheelchair bound classmates to prom can be considered heartwarming, they tiptoe along the lines of “pity porn”—just another way for those who do not have disabilities to pat themselves on the back for ‘being nice’ to someone who does.

So where does that leave us? How do we respond? Do we #shutpromdown until we can figure out what’s going on? Do we attempt to decolonize it? Do we pursue the separate but equal approach and do prom our way, making sure to center the Black, the queer, the poor, and the disabled?

I won’t attempt to prescribe an answer. After all, at its core, prom is young folks’ business, and far be it for me to tell the next generation how to live their lives and shape their world. But we fail those same young folks when those of us who know better fail to do better, or, at the very least, speak up on their behalf.

One seemingly harmless, de-politicized night is a crude reminder of centuries-long systemic harm directed towards our society’s most vulnerable. And that has consequences.

It’s time to rethink what we allow young marginalized folks to be exposed to completely. And if prom is an entry point into those reconsiderations, let us use it for something productive.

Why can’t we defend Blackness when a Black person does something wrong?

“Nothing exists in a vacuum” is a trite old aphorism used to explain how all actions have consequences. It is founded on a basic principle in physics that states that space without matter, by definition, contains nothing. The saying highlights the reality that any actions occurring outside of vacuums create ripple effects because matter connects everything together.

This reality is sometimes used to explain the concept of collateral damage, and how the imprecise targeting of an individual is bound to impact more than just that one person.

INTERVIEW: Fight trans homelessness with J. Skyler Robinson

There are at least 1.4 million trans adults and around 150,000 trans youth living in the United States today. Although they only make up .6 and .7 percent of their respective populations, trans people in the U.S. are much more likely to face astounding levels of interpersonal violence, lack of healthcare, and homelessness. The latter is often a function of various manifestations of discrimination and family rejection.

J. Skyler Robinson aims to tackle the issue of trans homelessness head on.

Black Youth Project sat down with the Black, genderqueer transwoman to discuss their plans to create a transitional living home to support especially vulnerable trans people.

How did you decided to start mobilizing to create this transitional living home?

“I used to live in a Los Angeles gay and lesbian transitional living program for youth. I was there for a two year period. Since this was something that I’ve actually lived through, I know how beneficial it is. So that’s what led me to try and start up my own version of it. However the biggest difference is that it’s specifically for the transgender community.”

What is it that you hope trans people will be able to experience during their time in the transitional living home?

“My biggest hope is that trans people have a safe space to stay, and time to recuperate from whatever troubles they were experiencing before, to re-enter regular society and the workforce. Trans people face a myriad of violence: interpersonal, economic––so much. So having an area to rest and recuperate, I think, is so important.”

How crucial is that area of reprieve––especially in the current political climate?

“It’s definitely been compounded by the Trump Administration. Even Ben Carson, the new HUD Secretary, stated that he didn’t want [public housing] to be comfortable for homeless people, because he thinks people would never want to leave. I think that’s very misguided, and really unethical, even more so with the specific situation trans people face.”

Would you say Trump administration’s views about poor Black people are even more dangerous when one adds trans people in the mix?

“Most definitely. The current administration has demonstrated no understanding of transgender issues and ignorance often leads to death. Black trans women already account for the highest homicide rate among all LGBT people in the US. Employment, housing and healthcare discrimination (which are structural) all contribute to our deaths. I don’t see any reason to think the 45th or anyone in his cabinet would do anything to change this.”

“Where would the transitional living home be located? Do you plan on opening up more around the country?”

“I hope to build this facility in Las Vegas. I live in California, but I travel back and forth between LA and Las Vegas. We didn’t want to build it in California because of the economic situation––California is very crowded and the cost of living is extraordinarily high. So I think Vegas would be the next best step. The trade-off is that California does have the best legal protections of any state for trans people. Nevada is very close on a number of points, but my main concern was for those exiting the program who might be looking for work and housing. So I think this location would make it a bit easier.”

What stage is the project in now?

“We’ve already handled the articles of incorporation, but we’re not tax exempt yet. When you incorporate an office, the first stage is actually getting the Employer Identification Number, but filing for tax exempt status is a completely separate process… But we’ve filed that paperwork already.”

How much overall do you think you’d need to raise?

“So far, our goal is set at $500,000. That cost right now is primarily to be able to buy land to build the facility, and hire an executive staff to work on the project. But within the next 5 years, I’d like to have a volunteer board of directors and a fully compensated executive staff who would guide the entire project. So the current goal would go to those two things.”

What message would you like people to take away as they learn more about your project and the dire situation many trans people are currently facing?

“We have a lot of people looking out for themselves and literally no one else. That selfishness is apparent across all marginalized groups living in the United States right now, so whatever we can do to pull together and ensure that the people who are most vulnerable are taken care of, I think that’s where a great deal of our focus should be. I know the end goal for this facility is at least a few years away, but what can definitely happen right now is getting the ball rolling so we can get to the next stage.”

You can donate to J. Skyler’s transitional living home project here.

When white people enter a space, anti-Blackness always does too

On October 29th 2012, Glenda Moore’s two sons were killed during Hurricane Sandy, the youngest casualties during the storm. I say during rather than of the storm because the death of Moore’s children–Connor, 4 and Brendan, 2–was caused by another type of tempest, one that has gone on far, far longer and is far more brutal.

Police said Moore, a Black nurse, became stuck in Staten Island while trying to get to safety. When the floodwaters began to sweep her car away, the desperate mother was able to pull her sons from it, but the two small boys were quickly whisked up by the currents. Distraught, Moore banged on the doors of many neighbors who refused to lend a hand. One told her, “I don’t know you. I’m not going to help you.” Another turned off the lights and refused to answer when she rang the doorbell. Moore’s neighborhood was 64% white (in 2010).

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?

Keep your white friends and partners away from Black Pride events

This June marks the 48th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a series of violent acts of resistance in New York City credited with sparking the modern Gay Rights Movement. The uprisings, led mostly by trans people of color and drag queens, are commemorated each year with celebrations across the globe during what is known as Pride Month. For many LGBTQQIA+ people, this is a time to reaffirm their right to life and liberty against the backdrop of anti-queer stigma and violence they experience at the hands, knife- and gun-points of society-at-large.

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.”

I’ll still complain about politics even when I don’t vote – fight me.

I am a non-voter who has the audacity to still be upset that my people are dying. I have been told innumerable times that I am not supposed to be allowed this. “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain” is perhaps the most common non-voter shaming refrain I’ve heard, right up there with “your ancestors died for the right to vote.”

But I am not generally one to accept what society allows me to do as gospel.

I learned this from those very same ancestors, who, as even non-voter shamers acknowledge, lost their lives so that I could do what they weren’t allowed. Some say their deaths were only for my right to vote, but I know they died to get closer to freedom. I know they died also to be able to refuse the vote if it does not work towards that freedom. I know that my people are still dying–still died even when I did vote–and, if anything, my ancestors lost their lives so that I would never let anything get in the way of raising hell about it.