Friday, March 30, 2012

Music Mondays

Yes, I am aware that it's Friday. I've had this song in my head for a few days now. It's safe for work, and if you'd like to read the lyrics, you can click here.

There are so many great lines in this song. I think my favorite is,

Lift your head up high, and rejoice for all you see without your eyes.

And then there's the bridge,

No life's worth more than any other, no sister worth less than any brother.

I wonder how the world would be different if we actually believed that? I know I try, but it's hard sometimes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

This just in...

Well, would ya look at that? No sooner than I write about how we finally have a case with a clean victim, someone in the Sanford police department leaks information about how Trayvon Martin had been suspended three times from school.

Well, this changes everything! People who get suspended and/or smoke marijuana totally deserve to be followed down the street and shot to death.

Keep it classy, Sanford PD.

Who are we kidding? This is a blatant attempt to distract us from the the issues at hand. An unarmed boy was shot to death, and the police responsible for investigating the matter chose not to look into it further, until hundreds of thousands of people told them to.

I am really debating how much more I want to keep arguing the details. I will ask these questions: was Trayvon's school record a factor in deciding in whether or not to arrest George Zimmerman? If yes, what makes it relevant? If no, then what are the reasons for the information being leaked?

Moving on.

I said in my last post that I was going to talk more about how the connotation of black = dangerous got drilled into people's heads. But then I got all riled up and ended with that awesome video instead.

It is quite the fascinating story though, so I want to take this opportunity to share it with you.

I recently watched a documentary called Slavery by Another Name on PBS. From the website:

Slavery by Another Name is a 90-minute documentary that challenges one of Americans’ most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery in this country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. The film tells how even as chattel slavery came to an end in the South in 1865, thousands of African Americans were pulled back into forced labor with shocking force and brutality. It was a system in which men, often guilty of no crime at all, were arrested, compelled to work without pay, repeatedly bought and sold, and coerced to do the bidding of masters.

Some brief lowlights from the film:

Pre Civil War, fifty percent of the capital that was invested in the South was invested in the purchase of slaves. So when the Emancipation Proclamation happened, slave owners were at risk of losing a huge amount of money. Because you know, they couldn't return their slaves and get their money back.

What happened then?

Well, lawmakers in the South started criminalizing a lot of normal behaviors and greatly increasing the penalties for petty crimes. New crimes were created like loitering (aka walking around and looking about,) vagrancy (aka not having a home since you used to be a slave and now you weren't anymore,) and walking next to a railroad track, became things for which you could be arrested, fined and sentenced to hard labor. And if you didn't have the money to pay the fine, that was no problem--they just increased the amount of time you had to do hard labor.

So, how did the hard labor work?

Well, wouldn't you know it--the State would rent out these "criminals" to private business owners. Some of the same people, who a few years before, had been slave owners! Imagine that.

The business owner gets to profit from the labor, and the State gets to profit from the renting. And the black people? They get to be forced to work for free.

And they were actually get treated worse than when they were slaves, because as rented workers, there was no incentive for the business owner to treat them well. If they got sick from horrible living conditions, or just got worked to death, the business owner would just go and rent another guy. Under slavery if a person died, the slave owner would lose the money invested in the purchase of the enslaved person.

myblackfriend, you're really starting to bum me out--what does this have to do with the connotation between black and dangerous?

I know, it bums me out too. Let me get to my original point.

Before the Emancipation Proclamation, most people in the criminal justice system were white. Not long after slavery officially ended, 90% of the inmates in the criminal justice system in the South were black. So this disproportionate number of black people in jail thing has been going on ever since we were freed.

And here's something curious about how white people's perceptions of black people changed over time. While black people were being dominated in almost every way under the institution of slavery, many white southerners saw them as hardworking, trustworthy and obedient. Once slavery ends, that's when you see the narrative of black people being dangerous criminals start to form.

And in some ways it would make sense. If you're a young white kid driving around the South with your parents, and you see a chain gang full of people in prison stripes and they all just happen to be black, in your mind you may start to think black people are inherently dangerous.

It's only when you start to examine things a little more closely, that you begin to wonder if there aren't other factors at play.

Well, myblackfriend...slavery was a really long time ago.

True, but as we just learned, it would appear that it wasn't nearly as long a time ago as we were originally led to believe. And it just so happens that things like this are still happening today.

Have you ever heard of stop and frisk? That's when the police can stop and search you, just cuz. It's completely legal, and apparently happens a lot in inner-city neighborhoods. Lots of black and brown people get stopped and frisked, and some have drugs on them ( little known fact: 83% of drug arrests are for possession.)

Do you know how many white people I've known that would have drugs on them if they were stopped and frisked? Several.

What kind of neighborhood do you live in? When is the last time the police routinely stopped and searched people who were minding their own business in your neighborhood?

I am not even trying to say that people should or shouldn't be arrested for having drugs. What I am saying is if you're going to have such an invasive procedure in place, apply it to all citizens equally. Don't target and punish one group of people and let another group get a pass. Don't put one group of people in jail and call them violent and dangerous, while another group of people is doing the same thing, and they're allowed to get high and watch Workaholics in peace. That is just plain UnAmerican. At least the America that I like to believe, and sometimes just have to hope (despite depressing evidence to the contrary,) actually exists.

But do you want to know the most pernicious thing about it?

All of these things: don't run away, don't learn to read, don't walk next to the railroad tracks, don't raise your voice around white women, don't try to come to my school, don't walk down the street with marijuana in your pocket, don't date my daughter, don't wear a hoodie, don't come into my gated community, don't look at me when I'm looking at you, don't write a blog that focuses on race, don't be smart, don't be stupid, be just like me, remember you'll never be like me.

All of these messages exist to support one basic belief: Everything will be just fine, as long as you stay in your place. If you don't stay in your place--we're going to have problems.

Well, my friends? I roundly reject these messages. And I invite you to reject them too.

Comments? You know what to do.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

More on Trayvon.

So, it's a few days later. I have been getting close to up-to-the-minute information on the Trayvon Martin case because of this facebook group. I have also seen the story covered as the lead or close to the lead story on Inside Edition and the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. I believe that the story went from online only coverage, to weekend television coverage, to the primetime specials currently playing, in large part because of the role of social media. Facebook, twitter and blogs are technologies that the government has yet to figure out how to control and corporations have yet to figure out how to corrupt. As a result, we are seeing stories that the people want to give attention to leading our evening newscasts. Incredible.

I think the two best things to come out of this situation are the close to 2 million signatures this petition has received, and President Obama's statement that we as a nation need to do some "soul searching." I am ready to search my soul, and I invite you to search yours as well...

As far as I can see there are two separate, but related issues in the Trayvon Martin case.

1) What were the reasons behind George Zimmerman following and shooting Trayvon Martin?

2) What were the reasons for the Sanford Police Department making the decision not to arrest George Zimmerman and charge him with a crime?

You'll notice I didn't start those questions with Why? I told you in a previous post not to say but, and why is another word that is close to useless. I think people have been programmed to hear the word why and have the immediate response, I don't know. Why makes things very abstract like, Why do fools fall in love? Has anyone ever bothered to answer that question? No.

However, if you say what it shifts things a little bit, and opens the door to answers that can be explained: What is 2+2? It can also help people to be less defensive, because it doesn't sound accusatory.

Okay let's attempt to answer question #1

here are some reasons off of the top of my head.

--There had been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood.
--George thought Trayvon was suspicious because he didn't recognize him. And he was black. And he was wearing a hoodie. Remember in this post when I talked about how being black is already one strike against you, so if you have any other strikes against you, you're more likely to be screwed? This case is another good example of that. I can reasonably believe that seeing someone in your neighborhood that you don't recognize (assuming you know all the people you live near,) is something that might arouse your initial suspicion. I can even see how wearing something that could be used to cover your face might be another cause for concern. But being black, walking down the street, "looking about," and staring at someone that is staring at you, are not reasonable causes for suspicion. And supposedly Trayvon didn't put on his hoodie until Zimmerman started following him. And even if he did have his hoodie on the whole time, it was raining, and hoodies are good for keeping the rain off of your head.

In my estimation, I don't recognize you + you have something that you can use to cover your face ≠ call 911. It also ≠ get out of car and follow and/or question and/or chase, and/or whatever happened when George Zimmerman made the completely unnecessary decision to get out of his car. Let the police handle it, guy.

If there is one point that I want to make crystal clear before I move on to point two, it is that black is not synonymous with dangerous. People of all races (including black,) need to work very hard to get this connotation out of their heads. People have worked very hard to drill it into your head (more on that later,) so you are going to have to work very hard to drill it out of your head.

I am not saying that black is synonymous with safe, what I am saying is that there are clues that you should use to help determine if someone is a danger to you, but he's black is not one of them. If a person is following you, confronting you in the middle of the night on dark street, or pulling a gun on you--these are all legitimate reasons to be afraid for your safety.

All right, let's get to question two. More thoughts off of the top of my head.

--George Zimmerman had a bloody nose and blood on the back of his head.
--George Zimmerman told the police he acted in self-defense, and in Florida if you think someone is threatening your life, you can shoot them without having to make attempts to flee.
--George Zimmerman's dad is a retired judge, and some unscrupulous law enforcement officials think taking care of their own is more important than following the law.
--George Zimmerman was a police informant, and that is why he has been protected by the police from the beginning. [Note: this is just a theory I heard on the internet, but it's it's worth looking into.]
--The police saw a young black male with a hoodie on, and thought of all the other young black males with hoodies they've arrested and seen as dead bodies over the years, and thought to themselves, This is probably just some thug who sells drugs and has all kinds of baby mommas, it's probably better that he's dead anyway. Yeah, I went there.

On a related note, part of the reason this case is getting so much attention is that we finally have a young black male victim who is (as Joe Biden would say,) clean. No record, no weapon, and we all know that thugs don't shop at Hollister. It's like, it's just getting harder and harder to deny that people are targets because they are black.

Okay, back to the police. Like I said at the beginning of this post, what George Zimmerman did, and what the police did are two separate issues. George Zimmerman is an individual who is making his own individual (bad) decisions. The Sanford Police Department is an arm of the government, whose job is to protect and serve the citizens of Sanford, Florida. As a part of the government, in some ways they represent all of us as citizens of the United States. And that is where the outrageous part comes in. I expect more from officers of the law. Even if there is a stand your ground law, stand your ground does not mean follow someone, and then shoot them if/when they start beating your ass. There is so much evidence out there already, why did they not think to call a grand jury before hundreds of thousands of people started signing a petition? How did they not think there was enough probable cause the night of the shooting to arrest George Zimmerman on suspicion of something? Reckless endangerment, involuntary manslaughter, for the love of God, we've got a unarmed kid with a bullet through his chest! Why did they list Trayvon as a "john doe" instead of going through his phone, finding the number that said mom and calling it to tell her that her son was dead?

Yeah, I just said why, but I am getting really pissed off right now. Look, I just said but too. I was going to write more, but I am going to end it here for now. Soul searching doesn't happen in one afternoon.

Before I go, there is a video that I have always wanted to put on my blog, but it never seemed like the right time. I think that time is now.

Please, wake up.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Justice for Trayvon Martin

I had another post that I was working on, but I decided instead to write this one.

Do you know who Trayvon Martin is? He is a 17 year old black boy who was shot and killed by the head of a neighborhood watch. Trayvon was unarmed, and walking back to a relative's house after buying a package of skittles and an Arizona iced tea. I first heard about this story on this blog. Over the past week or so, I have seen it mentioned on several other blogs written by black people, but when I mentioned it to a group of white friends this evening, none of them had heard about it. That is what spurred me to write this post. If you would like to read more details about what happened, you can click here.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

I don't understand how the self defense claim could be seen as so plausible as to not even result in an arrest, when the person who was supposedly defending himself had a gun, and the person who was supposedly being defended against had no weapon? Also the one with the gun outweighed the one without a gun by about 100lbs.

Why didn't George Zimmerman listen to the 911 operator when he/she told him not to follow Trayvon?

Why haven't the police released the 911 tapes? This happened several weeks ago, and I know for a fact that Inside Edition can get 911 tapes like, three days after the recording is made.

Stories like this make me worry for my son. He is not even 2, but I think about when he is 15 or 16, and one of my fears is that he is going to be out and about
and get shot by the police because they think he is acting "suspicious." I know George Zimmerman was not a cop, but he was someone who felt that he had some authority and also had a gun. I have thought about how if we get our son a car, we should get a bunch of those stickers that the police sell you that you put in your back window so when you get pulled over, you don't get tickets. I wonder if they would also be effective in keeping the cops from harrassing a young boy of color. I think about how we have to teach him to seem as calm and non threatening as possible (which I think might be hard, because he will probably be super tall like his dad.)

I am so tired of hearing stories about young black boys dying. I hope that when my son is older, things will have improved significantly. I hope that Trayvon's friends and family can find the answers that they deserve, and that George Zimmerman is held accountable for his actions on that night.

If you would like to sign a petition calling for George Zimmerman to be prosecuted, you can click here. And if you have any thoughts or feelings that you'd like to share, feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Rumer has it.

Here's some music for your faces. And your ears, too I suppose:

That's Rumer. She's got the voice of an angel. Karen Carpenter reincarnated maybe. She's probably sick of hearing both of those things. Oh well. And her name isn't really Rumer. I think it's Sarah. I agree with her that Rumer sounds much cooler. No offense intended to my readers named Sara(h).

myblackfriend, she's not black, so why are you talking about her on your blog?

Well, she is half-Pakistani, but that's not why I am blogging about her either. sometimes I like to blog about things that relate to different forms of inequality, not just things that stem from race. I almost said "related to race" but that wouldn't be accurate, because I do believe that all forms of inequality are related in some way.

Anyways, I'm writing about Rumer because she is a talented singer/songwriter who is also overweight. Sidenote: I thought a lot about just the right word to describe this particular woman's body. As it goes with women's bodies, there are many words to choose from. I finally decided on "overweight." It's not the best word, but if you don't like it, don't blame me--blame society.

I first heard about Rumer on CBS News Sunday Morning. She talked about how she worked all kinds of jobs while she was waiting for her big break. That's not that unusual of a story, but it got me thinking, "Hmm...I wonder why she's getting her big break now? She's got an amazing voice, much better than many people who are currently on the radio."

I decided that she is getting her big break now, because consumers have shown that they are willing to spend money on overweight, really talented, female singer/songwriters, as demonstrated by the massive success of another British artist, Adele. So a record executive decided that it might be a good bet to invest some money in Rumer, because she might make him and his bosses a lot of money, the same way Adele made her record company a lot of money. Because record companies (like most companies I know,) are intensely motivated by the amount of money they can make.

These two women illustrate a really important point. If people want change in society, one of the most powerful ways that they can push for that change is how they choose to spend their money. Adele is massively successful, and now corporations are responding by expanding their ideas of what a successful musician can look like. It's kind of like the explosion of all the New Jersey related shows, except much, much, better. If it makes corporations money, they'll do it. If it doesn't, they won't. So if we can show them how it's profitable not to be racist/sexist/lookist/homophobic/etc. they'll stop. Is that an oversimplification? I don't think so. It's true that it doesn't address how people without money to spend are supposed to make their voices heard, but I'm finished blogging for the day.

And even if you don't agree with anything I've written here, at least you got to hear a pretty song. And for that, you are welcome.

Comments? Leave them for me.