Saturday, December 5, 2009

Quick Hit

Another thing to add to the straight white privilege checklist...

Number 857,639: I will never have to choose between living in a region where the professional, financial, political and friend things in my life are going well and living in a region where i can be a part of my cultural community.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Yellow Rage

Yellow Rage performs "A Little Too Much" with intros from "Listen Asshole" and "I'm a Woman Not A Flava" at the Asian Arts Initiative Grand Opening Celebration.

They are SO. Fucking. AWESOME.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Books Are Not For Hurting: A New Series!

So as you probably noticed, I haven't written squat since May. However I'm back with a new series of posts about bigotry and unintentional bias in children & teen's literature. And lo, it shall be, and I shall call it "Books Are Not For Hurting!"

"Why?" you might be saying to yourself, "Why oh why should I care about Curious George and The Bernstein Bears when over 400 women have been murdered along the US/Mexico border?" Heads up, the messages we send kids when they're young -- be it through picture books, movies, tv, etc -- impact how our society changes (or doesn't) to address issues of social injustice like the inattention to what's going on in Juarez. Society starts early with messages that non-white bodies don't count when it fails to provide a noticeable body of literature featuring kids of color. Obviously, this also affects women, queer people, differently-abled folks, and so on. So as a background to why kids books aren't a utoptian playground of egality and justice, let's review! (Major h/t to Packaging Girlhood)

I'm a children's book buyer, so I see pretty much all the books that are published by major publishing houses each year. Most publishers send a box of samples of the picture books they are putting out for the season, along with a selection of uncorrected proofs of the novels, and of course a catalogue. I haven't had time to do any intensive counting and statistical-ness, but I'd estimate that 90% of the books that are published feature white children as the main protagonists. A growing number of picture books are featuring children of color as well as white protags, but most of these have kids of color in the background -- they are rarely the main protag of the book. Those books that feature children of color rarely have a child of color on the cover, and are frequently about serious subjects such as racism, slavery, the civil rights movement, etc. It is very rarely that I see a book with a main protag of color in which that child's race is not somehow related to the main problem of the novel/picture book. I'm often left thinking, Gosh, wouldn't it be nice if Fancy Nancy was black? or Wouldn't it be great if I'll Love You Forever featured latino kids? or Goddamnit I wish I could find a happy story about a black kid that isn't about racism!" Additionally, lots of books that have a main character of color end up with a white kid on the cover, à la the to-do about Justine Larbalestier's Liar which, despite being about a black girl, originally featured a white girl on the cover until there was major outcry.

And that's just the tip of the problem in regards to race. Think about how many picture books designate the "girl" animals with a hair bow, pink, skirts, or heavy eyelashes, whereas the normal animal is left to be read as the boy -- the boy as the default, the girl as altered, inauthentic & performative, if we're going to get academic about it (h/t Julia Serano). If a parent is featured, it is almost always a mother, particularly in any books featuring daily activities like washing, eating, cooking, hugging, etc -- you know, because dads don't care about their kids, that's the mom's job.

Which moves us on into relationships (what up Twilight?) Ah yes, the ever-popular fetishization of violence, most notably in the soon to be published Stolen by Lucy Christopher which apparently (according to the packaging, I haven't read it yet) describes a young woman's quest not to fall in love with her abductor and potential rapist. Admittedly it could be that Stolen is actually a well written book, and that it's just packaged badly, but it's indicative of what the publishing industry thinks is appropriate romance lit for teen girls: power imbalance, threats of violence, stalking, etc. (FYI, I'll actually be reading Stolen and posting a review later, so stay tuned). Then there's also all the heteronormativity (the always awesome Renee touches on this), not to mention the internalized homophobia in the coming-out books.

Oh I could go on forever (and do, on my goodreads feed). Trust me, the kiddie lit scene is fucked up. But the point is, we need to be talking about this more. The messages that kids get when they're young from picture books and novels are not neutral. Pictures are not neutral. We tend to think about books as being so much better for children than TV, magazines, the internet, and so on, but picture books and kids novels are subject to the same bias and bigotry that's present in the rest of our society. In fact kids books are probably a stronger hold out for conservative "values" since we have to Protect The Children and The Quality Of The Written Word and all. So! Welcome to my new series on kid's lit! I'll be getting together a list of questions to use as a tool when thinking about kid's literature, and I'll be using them to review stuff. And it won't all be negative either -- I'll also be posting profiles of authors, illustrators, books and publishers that are doing an awesome job. Hooray!

(Note Martha, dressed in a pink skirt with a flower on her head, while George isn't even wearing pants).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Suheir Hammad

I woke up with this poem in my head today, so here is Suheir Hammad performing "Not Your Exotic, Not Your Erotic" at the Def Poetry Jam.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Self Watering Containers!!!

I have been absent for an unforgivable length of time. BUT! I'm nicely settled in my new apartment with (almost) no unpacked boxes AND a baby tomato plant that is about to become the Happiest Tomato Ever. Why? Because it will get just the amount of water it wants, and I will only have to water it once a week. Thus is the magic of Self Watering Containers. And in honor of such, instead of our regular Spoken Word Saturdays (which I'm super late on anyway), here is a video of how to make your very own SWC.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


So I just moved into a new apartment and I don't have the internet at all right now, so sorry for the delayed posting. In fact, I think it's just going to have to be on hiatus until the situation can be remedied. But rest assured, soon I will be back with full wireless in my apartment and things can go back to normal.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Mayda Del Valle

Sorry I'm late this week. I'm in the midst of getting ready to move. Here's Mayda Del Valle performing "I'm Going Back" at the Def Poetry Jam

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Yellow Rage

Oh no! I forgot yesterday! But here we are, a day late: Yellow Rage performs "Chinky Eyes."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Sunni Patterson

Another Sunni Patterson poem because she is SO FLIPPIN' AWESOME. Here she is performing "We Made It" at the Def Poetry Jam.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Book Reviews: In The Time of the Butterflies

A few weeks ago I spent the evening (and a lot of the night!) rereading Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies. I had forgotten how devastating and amazing this book is.

In the Time of the Butterflies tells a fictionalized version of the lives of the Mirabal sisters -- Patria, Minerva and María Teresa -- who were assassinated for their resistance to Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo on November 25th 1960, when they were killed on a lonely mountain pass on the way home from visiting their incarcerated husbands. Alvarez's retelling begins in the 1930s when the sisters are very young and switches the point of view of each chapter to a different Mirabal sister, including Dedé Mirabal, the only sister still alive. Alvarez emphasizes the humanity of these women who have become larger-than-life figures -- María Teresa is only 10 when her first chapter begins. She tells her Little Book:
"I don't know if you realize how advanced I am for my age? ... I knew how to read before I even started school! ... My penmanship is also very pretty as you will have noticed. I've won the writing prize twice, and I would have this week, too, but I decided to leave some i's undotted. It doesn't help with the other girls if you are best all the time."
From childhood scribblings to the retellings of their imprisonment, gun-smuggling, near misses with Trujillo, and eventual deaths, Alvarez's book is beautiful and absolutely devastating. It reminds me of Kelly Tsai's poem, "Little Red Books:"
"my friend signs off all his emails / siempre luchando / paz y revolucion / as if the two were possible / peace and revolution / as if bloodless wars didn't still tear psyches apart / change hurts / living it is hard / we've got to be ready / if we decide to / zhan qi lai / stand up / zhan qi lai / zhan qi lai."
It's easy to deify activists like the Mirabals. It's easy to glorify their actions and call for a revolution, but we do them a disservice by forgetting their humanity and the horror of what they went through in the backlash to their actions. In her postscript, Alvarez says:
"What you will find here are the Mirabals of my creation, made up but, I hope, true to the spirit of the real Mirabals... For I wanted to immerse my readers in an epoch in the life of the Dominican Republic that I believe can only finally be understood by fiction, only finally be redeemed by the imagination. A novel is not, after all, a historical document, but a way to travel through the human heart."
I feel like this is the moral calling of great fiction and poetry -- to demonstrate the passion, terror, devastation, humanity and beauty in historical events that have been trammeled into bloodless factoids of banal, dispassionate textbooks.

A few months ago while looking for a book for my students to read that month I was struck by the inability of kids biographies to make their subjects passionate, interesting and human to their readers. My students and I had just finished reading Twelve Rounds to Glory, which is an illustrated biography of Muhammad Ali written in poetry. It fucking rocked because it was passionate and creative and talked seriously about racism and my students were friggin INTO IT. So I was looking for something similarly awesome and passionate about a woman of color for the next month, but nooOOOooo. Everything was stale non-fiction bore-the-pants off you crap. And about awesome people like Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman and Daisy Bates. I want fantastic kids biographiess about the Mirabals and Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldua. Imagine if, after talking to my boys about their sexist behavior and trying to convince them that girls are strong, we could all read a biography of the Mirabal sisters.

Boys Will Be Boys: Everyday Misogyny in the Classroom

So I tutor groups of exchange students at a school grades 5 through 9. As soon as I started working there, I noticed that it was 90% boys; however, most of my classes have (obviously) had only boys in them, so gender relations hasn't come up much. My class this semester, however, has 7 students, only 2 of whom are girls. (Two of the five in the entire school, mind you). The boys in this class will regularly refuse to sit next to the girls or to be on teams with them. They make faces and groan when I make them work together. At first I wasn't sure what to do exactly because of course the same thing happened to me when I was in school. I was just like "oh well, that's what kids do, they pretend that boys and girls have cooties."

But really, it's sexist and hurtful and I'm not having it. Maybe it's different in schools where the gender ratio is more balanced -- maybe it's not sexist then -- I'm not sure, I still have to think about it. But what has been going on in my classroom has certainly been a product of a misogynistic mindset. My students and I have talked extensively about race and racism this semester and the conversations we've had have been very productive and strongly felt. When responding to homophobic remarks I have explained to them that hating someone because they're gay is the same mindset as hating someone because of their race. I have to say that I haven't heard a single homophobic slur since. When I talked to them about the misogyny that's been going on I drew a similar parallel. I'm not sure that the main ringleader was much fazed, but the four other boys looked pretty abashed. And, as a teacher, if you can the followers on your side, you've already gone a long way towards controlling your troublemaker.

What would happen if teachers across the country started refusing to let boys ostracize girls simply for being female? What would happen if teachers started calling boys on being sexist and proactively taught their young students about the effects of sexism, racism and other prejudices? Not just as a history lesson mind you, but to say: "Here, we've learned about racism in the past. We've learned about Muhammad Ali and the Civil Rights Movement. Here are the ways that you are perpetuating the same hateful thinking in your own life. This is the way that fear of difference goes down in our classroom. How do you feel about it? What are you going to do about it?"

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Otep

Otep Shamaya performs "Dedicated to My Enemy" at the Def Poetry Jam

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Sunni Patterson

Sunni Patterson performs "We Know This Place" on Hip Hop Speaks

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Our Deplorable Immigration System

Today the Associated Press released a report conducted January 25th analysing the detention system for undocumented immigrants. The report shows that most immigrants who are currently detained have "no criminal conviction, not even for illegal entry or low-level crimes like trespassing." They also report that "More than 400 of those with no criminal record had been incarcerated for at least a year. A dozen had been held for three years or more; one man from China had been locked up for more than five years." This is despite a 2001 ruling by the Supreme Court that the ICE has six months to either deport or release people they've detained. You should really read the whole article though because it just gets more shocking.

Ask Obama to end the detention of immigrants, whether they are undocumented or not. Ask the rest of your elected officials to do the same. You may use my letter (below), if you like, or write your own.

Dear President Obama,

I campaigned for you in Missouri and it still makes me crazy happy to hear people on the radio say "President Obama." I'm glad to see that you've put a stop to the Global Gag Rule, created an office for Women's and Girls' Issues, and ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay. I'm writing to you today to ask you to do something about the immigration system and particularly the detention system for immigrants.

The Associated Press reports that most immigrants who are currently detained have "no criminal conviction, not even for illegal entry or low-level crimes like trespassing." They also report that "More than 400 of those with no criminal record had been incarcerated for at least a year. A dozen had been held for three years or more; one man from China had been locked up for more than five years." This is outrageous! The article further reports that despite a 2001 ruling that ICE has only 6 months to either deport or release people they've detained, the ICE has flouted this deadline and held more than 900 people for longer than six months.

Our prison system is already bloated, abusive, and of questionable efficacy; it is shameful and condemnable that we are engorging the prison system by locking up folks who have committed no crime, just for being from out of town. When we lose our compassion and start locking up people just because they're different from us we have also lost our humanity.

Please do something to end this crisis in the immigration system. Please release those people who have been detained and never charged. Please release those people who have committed no crimes. Please allow those people who have committed low-level, non-violent crimes or misdemeanors access to bail. Please help those folks who are here undocumented to become documented and to learn English if necessary. Please stop the incarceration and deportation of undocumented people and children who have committed no crimes.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to your steps to end this deplorable situation. Here is the link to the article I'm referring to:


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Suheir Hammad

Suheir Hammad performs "First Writing Since" and the Def Poetry Jam.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Gina Loring

Gina Loring performs "Somewhere There is a Poem" at the Def Poetry Jam

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Sweet Honey In the Rock

Sweet Honey in the Rock performs "Peace." Check out their Live in Carnegie Hall album. It has a bunch of awesome pieces on it like "Letter to Dr. Martin Luther King," "Emergency" (about apartheid) "Ode to the International Debt," and "Are My Hands Clean" (corporate greed & sweatshops).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

To grow up hypnotized / and then try to shake yourself awake / because you can sense what has been lost / you can sense what is at stake

"Unless one lives and loves in the trenches, it is difficult to remember that the war against dehumanization is ceaseless."
-- Audre Lorde

So, I've written about this before, but I want to say it again because I think it's really important. I've been thinking tonight about how easy it is to forget the truth if you don't hear it being consistently repeated to you. Even if it's something you know is true. Even if it's something that you discovered yourself. Even if it's something you've written about extensively. If it's not something that's reinforced by society, if it's not something you hear about all the time, if it's not something you make a conscious effort to remember, you'll forget about it. You'll have a vague feeling that something is wrong, something is not right, but you won't be able to remember why.

I remembered this today because I was trying to explain to my friend C that a person could be "unwilling to come out" even if they have supportive friends and family. And I knew that it was possible, I knew that "unwilling to come out" wasn't really the right words, I knew that I had experienced it for christsake, but I couldn't remember what was wrong with it. Fortunately I happened to be rereading my journal tonight and I figured out why. It's not because they don't want to come out, it's because sometimes they don't realize they're Queer. Because it's not been presented to them as an option, because they're still trying to reconcile themselves with what society is telling them

It's the same thing with not having your truth repeated to you on a daily basis. Our society can prattle on as much as it wants about tolerance and acceptance and live-and-let-live, but being Queer is still not presented as a viable option for children's future selves. If the social models you're presented with don't fit with your own identity, you're left walking around with this weird vertigo -- wasting your time trying to fit your identity into the models you've been given.

For example, I can't believe how much time I wasted feeling insecure and outsiderish because the idea of being attracted to women was never presented to me as a personal option. I knew people were gay. I knew gay people, but certainly that was never something that I would ever be. It's great to say that we're accepting of difference and that we support people in loving whoever they want -- but society gives zero models for how to live your life as a Queer person. So if you are Queer, you spend the first 20 or so years of your life wasting time trying to fit your understanding of society and your personal experiences together -- trying to squeeze yourself into a mold that you don't fit.

It doesn't mesh, so even if you don't have a big dramatic angsty personal crisis of feeling unfit to live, you still have this weird vertigo of being unable to understand and name the things you're going through and the way you feel. It's not like I was ever like "Oh my god, I'm attracted to a girl! I don't understand!" Nothing so overt or dramatic. Because for the longest time I didn't even realize that I was Queer. I just spent years berating myself for not being proactive about flirting with boys and not putting myself out there for dating them. I certainly wanted to date a boy, in the theoretical at least, because society presents it as the ultimate experience for women, and it seemed exciting and it was SO LAME not to. But at the same time I was terrified around boys that they would think I was attracted to them. But I didn't even realize that that was why I was so awkward and apprehensive and terrified -- thinking it was because I was stupid and too wrapped up in not wanting to do the stereotypical dating thing. Feeling CRAZY insecure for YEARS because I had never kissed anyone, even though there was never anyone I wanted to kiss.

What a waste of my time. I could have been having (or at least pursuing) relationships with people I was actually interested in. I feel quite certain that if I hadn't spent 4 years at a women's college where there were plenty of women who were repeating truths similar to my own, that I would still be wandering around trying to date men, wondering why I was so unhappy, and blaming myself for it. That's why it is SO important for Queer people and their friends to be visible and publicly Queer and present that as an option for other people. Not because of some stupid HRC-ish reason about trying to gain "tolerance" by showing that "we're just like you." We're not just like you. That's the point. We have to speak up about our own truths so that others can find their own way into their selves and stop trying to cram themselves into what society tells them.

It's scary to think that our selves are so mutable, so influenced by the messages we get from society, so easily erased by the company we keep and the things our friends say to us. I guess in some ways it's powerful because it means that one or two people can easily have a profoundly positive impact on another person, but it also means that a person's convictions, identity and self can be essentially erased simply by not having a community of similar people who will repeat their selves and their identities and truths to each other.

So SPEAK UP! Whether you're Queer or not. Tell the truth to children. Acknowledge in casual conversation that people have different identities and different experiences. Make sure that your words and actions don't unintentionally oppress others. Surround yourself with people who will embrace your identity instead of trying to ignore it or assimilate it or trample it down. Repeat the truth of your identity to everyone -- they need to hear it.

"As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
-- Nelson Mandela.

"The power of resistance is to set an example: not necessarily to change the person with whom you disagree, but to empower the one who is watching and whose growth is not yet completed, whose path is not at all clear, whose direction is still very much up in the proverbial air."
--Tim Wise

**Title Lyrics from Reprieve by Ani DiFranco

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Damali Ayo

Damali Ayo panhandles for reparations. She collects money from white people and gives it to black people as a way to start conversations about race, privilege, and oppression. Since she first did this, people have been joining her nationally on October 10th of every year. You can read more about all her performances, read an interview with her about reparations, join the National Day of Panhandling for Reparations, and see pictures and stories from people who participated last year.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Sista Queen

Whoops, I'm a day late. But here's Sista Queen performing "Try Being A Lady" at the Def Poetry Jam.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Spoken Word Saturdays: Staceyann Chin

I've been resisting the urge to post this poem every week because I don't want to make Spoken Word Saturdays just a constant stream of Staceyann Chin. But I couldn't resist anymore. Plus I've been reading the Essential Dykes to Watch Out for and I was struck, throughout the entire 20 years of the strip, by the social commentary and the searing indictment of an increasingly corporate and conservative LGBTQ movement. I ranted about this to a reporter at Pride last summer but of course none of it was published.

So in honor of the nauseating slogans we have seen coming out of the mainstream LGBT movement, in honor of "Gay is the New Black," in honor of everyone pushing for marriage before basic human dignity, in honor of blaming people-of-color for Prop 8, in honor of McDonalds being present at Pride, in honor of LOGO and the L Word, in honor of the HRC and The Advocate, Staceyann Chin reads "Poem for the Gay Games."

However, I do have to say that I don't agree with everything she says. This poem constantly challenges me to think more deeply about where I stand politically in the Queer community. Because I think it's okay to say "I just date people." I don't buy into the idea that this constitutes "neoconservatism breeding among us." I think there definitely IS neoconservatism in the Queer community. I just don't think that saying you date people is an example of such. I think sexuality is much more complicated than identifying either as gay/lesbian or straight (or even bisexual). Because it all gets mixed up with how you identify, not just who you're attracted to. I identify most strongly as Queer because it is a politicized sexuality and it's also a pretty broad, encompassing term. I don't identify as lesbian even though I don't realistically see myself dating a guy anytime in the forseeable future. I don't want to imply that that couldn't change. Sexuality is fluid and, personally, I don't see the term "lesbian" as embracing fluidity. I don't think it makes me a neoconservative for not wanting to box myself into a certain term.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Study Finds Race Was Not Deciding Factor in Prop 8

Despite disgusting rumors to the contrary, "a new study released this week finds that neither African Americans nor any other ethnicity were disproportionately in support of Proposition 8, which amended California’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage." In fact, the study found that voter's proability to vote in favor of Prop 8 was much more influenced by religion, age and party affiliation than by race. Read more. I'd like to see this as widely known as the rumors of black homophobia. Particularly, I'd like to beam this into the heads of the white lesbians I heard ranting about "black homophobia" at the Prop 8 rally I went to in November.

H/T Racewire/Colorlines Blog

Saturday, January 10, 2009

BART Transit Police Spokespeople Vague & Deliberately Misleading About Grant Shooting

BART board president, Thomas Blalock, said in an interview with ABC7 News, that he could not "pull anything factual" from the cell phone videos that show a two-year BART cop pulling his gun out and shooting an unarmed Grant in the back while another officer had his knee on Grant's neck. How anyone can watch that video and then say he "can't pull anything factual" from it is beyond me.

Additionally, despite the videos clearly showing Grant on the ground face-first with a police officer kneeling on his neck, BART spokesman Jim Allison stated that Grant was "not restrained" when shot. In other words, the BART spokesperson is lying.

Furthermore, Alex Jones reports that Spokesperson Allison claimed that BART had no videos of the shooting, even though BART had confiscated the cellphones of many witnesses who were recording. I can't find a clip or other citation of Allison saying this, but it seems crazy that BART would be claiming not to have videos, given that it says on the BART website that "the District also utilizes video-surveillance systems in trains, stations, and parking lots." So in addition to lying about not having video (according to Jones) even though they confiscated the cell-phones, it's like BART doesn't even care since they are flat-out contradicting the information right on their website!

Upon further perusal of the BART website, it seems that BART police are not a part of the local police departments and are "an autonomous law enforcement agency," according to their website. It's not at all clear what this means and what kind of oversight they have to report to, but it's clear that there needs to be more oversight. The Courage Campaign has a petition you can sign, asking the government to create a civilian oversight board for BART. I should also point out that the BART website says that "Qualifications and training for BART police officers exceed the mandates of the state's Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which certifies all California peace officers." Given that, one wonders about the speculation that Johannes Mehserle, the police officer who shot Grant, accidentally reached for his gun instead of his taser. Shouldn't their fancypants training be covering not reaching for a deadly weapon when your partner is kneeling on a victim's neck? For that matter, why did he even need to get out his taser for chrissakes?

H/T Alex Jones < /snirk >

Spoken Word Saturdays: Zora Howard

Okay I found out that I CAN embed the video of Zora Howard performing "Bi-Racial Hair" at the 2006 Urban Word NYC Annual Teen Poetry Slam! I know I posted it before with a link, but it so awesome that I wanted to make sure everyone's seen it. So here it is, in all of its embedded glory:

Oscar Grant, Young Unarmed Black Man Shot By Oakland BART Police

I'm a little late to this, but on the morning after New Year's Eve, Oakland Bart police shot and killed Oscar Grant, a 22 year old black father, who was unarmed and lying face-down on the ground with his arms behind him. There were MANY bystanders and witnesses present who recorded the incident on their cell phones and cameras. You can see footage of their videos here, here, here, and here, although apparently the police immediately tried to confiscate all recording-devices as soon as Grant was shot. There have been protests in Oakland the past few days, which have resulted in rioting and the destruction of property completely unconnected to the incident. The (few) (kind of) major news outlets that I've found covering this story (e.g. San Jose Mercury News, Yahoo News) have focused mainly on the destruction resulting from the riots or on excuses proffered by the police department, and have barely addressed the police-brutality and race issues that this incident brings up. What is it going to take before people take this issue seriously?

Racewire has a list of Five Things You Can Do Right Now About the Oscar Grant Shooting, and Holly and Davey D make good points about why this is more alarming than just an unarmed black man being shot. As if you needed more than that. Holly discusses the police mindset that questioning their actions makes you the enemy, which results in you getting shot (Grant), arrested (Amy Goodman), pepper-sprayed (Holly & Jack), or otherwise harassed. Davey D interviews Dereca Blackman, who asks why police can confiscate cell phones and other recording devices after such an incident, why do police have the privilege to not be interviewed for days after the incident, thus allowing them time to "get their story together," as it were.

We're now being told that it was an accident, that the officer's gun discharged, that he thought he was reaching for his taser, etc. I don't think it really matters, honestly. You can clearly see from the video that there were at least 2 or three officers in physical contact with him. He was on the ground, unarmed, arms behind him -- as Grant's family lawyer asks "WHY did he take his gun out???" (emphasis mine). There was clearly, CLEARLY, no need for him to take his gun out. Christ, Grant wouldn't have even been able to see that he was being threatened with a gun since he was face-down on the ground. This illustrates, oh-so-clearly, the effects of a society that vilifies black and brown bodies and gives deadly weapons to (mainly) white police officers. Renee discusses the racial implications and what she will tell her two young sons about Oscar Grant.

Amid all of this awfulness, I do want to say how awesome it is that the bystanders and witnesses to the shooting were NOT passive bystanders. That they recorded the incident, that they made it clear to the police that they were watching, that they thought what the police were doing was out of line, that they yelled "let him go!" Way to be citizen journalists! Way to do the work. Why do we never hear THEIR stories when people talk about apathetic youth and bystanders who do nothing? Holly has an interesting discussion of what kind of effect this sort of citizen involvement has on the police.

This HAS to be talked about. It's really alarming to me that I found out about Grant's death and the rioting from my friend who lives in Oakland, rather than from the friggin' news. Man, this is the TIME to be talking about police brutality and racial profiling now that we finally have someone sympathetic (and not batshit crazy) in the White House. There need to be nation-wide protests in solidarity to highlight these problems across the country, not just in Oakland, and we need to be talking to our local elected officials about what they plan to do to address police brutality and racial profiling in our own communities. Go organize a protest.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Spoken Word Satrudays: Good Sista/Bad Sista

Turiya Autry and Walidah Imarisha of Good Sista/Bad Sista perform "Supa Soul Sistas" at the 2008 Wordstock Poetry Slam