Tag Archives: Trayvon Martin

Black History Month 2016: Black Lives Matter

1 Feb

black-lives-matterThis is now the sixth year that Social Justice For All (SJFA) has celebrated Black History Month. Sadly, the past year has proven unequivocally why we still need Black History Month. I can only hope all of us in the United States are doing some reflection around our own racism and encouraging conversations around issues of racial disparities and systems of inequities and oppression. I also hope as we have these courageous conversations we have a better understanding of what racism is.

In the wake of Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, and all of the other cities where black voices are being silenced, we have an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations around race and racism.  I hope all of us who identify as white have some discomfort as we look at how disproportionately black lives are subjected to police brutality or murder — how all of us should be mourning Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Artago Damon Howard, Jeremy Lett, Trayvon Martin, Roy Nelson, Miguel Espinal, Anthony Ashford, and all of the other unarmed black lives lost. It is with profound sadness that I note the statistic (most likely under-reported) that police killed at least 102 unarmed black people in 2015, more than any other race. I find it more than difficult to believe that systemic, institutional, and individual racism did not have a hand in these deaths.

While I identify as a queer white man, I would argue this horrific part of American History is most definitely a queer issue, it is a feminist issue, it is a black issue, it is a trans issue, for the intersectionality here makes it an issue for all people living in the United States.

Equity and Equality are still just a dream when 13% of the people in our country identify as African American (we know this percentage is not accurate because of the many barriers that prevent some African Americans from filling out the census) and far fewer than this are represented in most walks of life. Sadly, the places where African Americans are over-represented include poverty, dropout rates, and incarceration, further evidence that institutionalized oppression still plays a major role in how things work in America. In states like Alabama, African Americans that are or were incarcerated lose their right to vote for the rest of their lives – so much for the 14th Amendment.

I would love to see a point in history when we don’t need Black History, Women’s History, or LGBT History Months. I don’t see that happening until we have a level playing field, which would require eradicating racism, misogyny, and homophobia. This also requires that we see accurate representation in history books and the media of Blacks, Women, and LGBT folk. I can only hope that all of these targeted populations can find ways to build community and work together around issues of equity and equality.

Taking Action: Here we have an opportunity as white people to leverage our power and privilege for black lives. I hope all of us are engaging in conversations that address issues of access, power, and barriers. Can we look for spaces where white people can stand back and stand in solidarity with black people? Can we look for spaces to ensure more black voices are being heard? Please vote and think about the candidate you are voting for this year for President.

Racism in the Wake of Paula Deen and Trayvon Martin’s Murder

19 Jul
We Have a Long Way to Go.

We Have a Long Way to Go.

Recent events dominating the news have coalesced to demonstrate how far our country has to go around the issue of race. This is a difficult and complex piece to write and a difficult time for our country, as the dominant culture — white, hetero, male — reacts to these events in yet another wave of racist behavior.  United States history never starts from a place of innocence, and our entrenched history of marginalization and racism is quite long.

When the story first hit about Paula Deen, I had dozens of readers emailing me to make her Bigot of the Week. I was reluctant to do so and even more reluctant to call her a racist without more facts. As a social worker, I understand that someone can practice racist behavior without being fundamentally racist. Applying that label is very powerful and gives the person no place to go, no way to address the negative behavior.

I have never been a very big fan of Paula Deen, so seeming to defend her — especially given the nature of the charges —  was somewhat painful for me. We were dealing with partial information, taken from an adversarial process as she responded to an attorney representing a woman suing her companies, mostly deriving from the actions of her brother. I felt I needed to take the time to let more context emerge before passing judgment, something our media are incapable of doing anymore.

Sadly, her behavior in conjunction with her silence certainly do qualify her behavior as racist and sexist behavior. She has admitted to her own shortcomings and seems remorseful, but does not seem to want to do any type of repair work. Far more disturbing is the fact that as the person in charge, she did nothing to put her brother’s horrible behavior in check. By turning away, she became complicit and thus colluded with his behavior.

While I’m glad the media picked up on the racism of Deen and her brother, they certainly did not do justice to the misogyny.  After spending two weeks gathering information, I was not only sad to learn of the awful racist behavior on behalf of this family, but why was no one talking about the issue of women, sexual harassment. and power?

To make the mar even larger on our country’s history, the George Zimmerman verdict came in last Saturday declaring Zimmerman innocent and declaring to the United States that it is still not safe to be a black man. This chilling decision, that lethal violence was justified because a scared kid reacted badly to being hunted by a man with a gun, has given racist America permission to demonstrate its ugliness.

Pat Robertson said we all need to “chill out” because Martin was a “fully formed African-American male” and “justice was served.” Sadly, I’m not sure what century Robertson is living in currently. Rush Limbaugh boldly declares that he’ll be using the word “nigga” because it’s a term of affection in the African American community so it isn’t racist–I’m sorry Rush, but you DON’T get to decided what people of color are allowed to find racist!  Dozens of pundits blame Martin for his own death because he made the mistake of wearing a hoodie — something millions of kids do every day without being hunted and shot.

As our history shows, our laws and policies were created to justify racist behavior and to ensure that white people were treated better and with different rules.  This was reaffirmed with the United States Supreme Court decision that struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. When laws and people in power, such as the Supreme Court normalize racist behavior, it paves the way for individuals to exercise their racist views. When President Obama was elected, the bigots felt threatened and reacted with coded language and horrific behavior. The Deen case shows just how horrifically people still use their power in racist, misogynistic ways. Tragically, the Zimmerman verdict has given the forces of hate permission to bellow their bigotry loudly with a hideous, we-told-you-so attitude.

A recent study published in The Root disclosed that over a 1/3  of white Americans believe African Americans are racist. Nothing demonstrates more clearly how fundamentally our nation misunderstands — or worse, willfully ignores — how power, privilege, and multi-generations of oppression and marginalization have created our modern dynamic. There is much work to be done. Those of us who believe in equity and fairness must use this tense, powerful moment in the American conversation to demand positive action towards racial equity and equity for all those that are marginalized.

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