OUR COMMON GROUND :: Watch Night 2016

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We have explored and examined the many issues, events and collective experiences of our time all through this year, 2016. As a people we have been challenged with disappointment; thunders of terror at the extra-judicial murders of our Brothers and Sisters; the continuing captured of them in enslavement camps by the millions;the covert oppression of children in schools that fail them or prepare them for imprisonment camps; and the failure of our government to makes us whole. As on this night in 1862, we search for the ‘North Star’ still. I impress my life and the spirit of this radio broadcast each week in the lessons of the N’Guzo Saba, striving to respect and honor Black Truth, our TRUTH.
Each week, we make a place, a sanctuary to say and claim that truth. In this coming year, we are faced with the gravest form of oppression and racism seen by none of us in our lives.  Make no mistake, on the bed of a fledgling fascism they will make every effort to eviscerate our belief in our historical accomplishments, ourselves as a people, what is ours and what is owed. We must stand tall in the dancing glow of our Ancestors and stand strong and tall. We must be strategically vigilant and believe in our Truth and the possibilities of our people still.
OUR COMMON GROUND will continue to provide the sanctuary that offers clarity, armament, comfort and a secure place for our voice, with respect and passion.  We are committed to serious analysis, seeking appropriate outcomes and input and answers.  I recently passed my 35th anniversary as host of OUR COMMON GROUND, there will be changes but our mission will never waver.  We are ALTERNATIVE ACTIVIST RADICAL RADIO and will continue in that tradition. WE least afford to let up in the face of what is coming.  We must careful about how we adjust our lenses in lunging into the “new struggle” era. Credible, useful, accurate and clear examination and action is more necessary than ever.  We are in a period of “post reconstruction” with the most visceral and evil forces controlling our public agency. We are a people who know how to survive.  For our children we continue thus.  As for our government, we may be unable to stop what will happen, however, we must stand on our Truth.
Throughout our history, the only thing that we have ever asked the OCG Family is do what you can (UJIMA, NIA) to help us grow and to bring more comrades to the Sanctuary.
Thank you for your support throughout the year. We return LIVE on January 7th.
Wishing for us the Victories of our Past and Abundance and Prosperity in our Future.
Janice Graham
Executive Producer, Host
OUR COMMON GROUND
kwanzaa16
watchnight
Date: December 31
Wed, 1862-12-31

*On This date in 1862 the first Watch Night Services were celebrated in Back communities in America.

The Watch Night service can be traced back to gatherings also known as “Freedom’s Eve.” On that night, Black slaves and free blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law.  At the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863; all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free. When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as many people fell to their knees and thanked God.

Blacks have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since, praising God for bringing us safely through another year. It’s been over a century since the first Freedom’s Eve and tradition still brings us together at this time every year to celebrate “how we got over.” This celebration takes many African American decendants of slaves into a new year with praise and worship. The service usually begins anywhere from 7 p.m. To 10 p.m. And ends at midnight with the entrance of the New Year. Some people come to church first, before going out to celebrate, for others, church is the only New Year’s Eve event.

There have been instances where clergy in mainline denominations questioned the propriety of linking religious services with a secular holiday like New Year’s Eve. However, there is a reason for the importance of New Year’s Eve services in the Black experience in America.

Reference:
The African American Desk Reference
Schomburg Center for research in Black Culture
Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc. and
The New York Public Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pub.
ISBN 0-471-23924-

Was Donald Trump’s Election Miss Ann’s Revenge? :: Amy Alexander

Miss Ann’s Revenge

With 53 percent of white women ages 45 to 64 voting for Donald Trump, was it a deliberate act meant to put blacks in their place?

Sarah Anne Paulson as Mary Epps in the film 12 Years a Slave
Sarah Anne Paulson as Mary Epps in the film 12 Years a SlaveFOX SEARCHLIGHT

It’s time to talk about the “Miss Ann effect.”

In the wake of the stunning news that more than half of white women who voted on Nov. 8 opted for Donald Trump, I have concerns—and questions.

I’m aware that not all white women are racist. But given the significant number of white women who supported Trump, it is legitimate to at least question their motives—especially the thinking of those who are college-educated and middle-class.

Exit-polling data from CNN tells the tale:

  • Total percentage of white women who voted for Trump: 42 percent;
  • White women ages 30-44 who voted for Trump: 42 percent;
  • White women ages 45-64 who voted for Trump: 53 percent;
  • Percentage of white women with college degrees who voted for Trump: 45 percent.

Were they responding to Trump’s sickening call to “take back our country”? If so, take it back from whom, exactly? And bring it where?

For college-educated white women, especially those who are in their 30s or 40s and who have jobs; for white women who have benefited from affirmative action, you have to wonder why they felt it a good idea to support a man who is not smart and who demeans people of color, the disabled and even white women.

If you are driven by fear, we would like to know: Exactly what you are so afraid of?

I’m on the record—unironically, and without snark—as saying that many of my best friends are white women. I don’t feel obliged to spend a lot of time here outlining my bona fides on this front. But it is obvious that millions of white women whom I probably would not ever have identified as racist or even “racism-blind” betrayed me and mine by voting for Trump.

And adding to the disillusion I am now experiencing is that fact that many of the white women who helped the untested, boorish, stunningly ignorant 70-year-old white man in his mad quest to replace our nation’s first black president were stealthy if not downright deceptive about their reasons.

I’m here now to call it out.

What Drives Miss Ann? I’m Glad You Asked

In black America, the shorthand for women who harbor virulent fear and resentment of black people—however covertly it is expressed here in the 21st century—are known as “Miss Anns.” It is our not-so-secret vernacular description of white women who were the wives, sisters, daughters and mothers of slave owners in the Deep South.

This figure, and her sometimes sly, always pernicious way of expressing her fear and resentment of blacks, is a recurring theme in black American literature, because Miss Ann was with us hundreds of years before Barack Obama was born to a white woman from Kansas. Her sense of entitlement blends with incipient curiosity about blacks in general and about black men in particular, and suggests, in all probability, an attraction that she cannot readily articulate. The resulting defining character trait of Miss Ann is the unacknowledged passion that seemingly drives the anger she will inevitably express.

If you’ve ever read Zora Neale Hurston or Maya Angelou, you have seen this reference. If you viewed the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave, you have seen the “Miss Ann” type embodied in the terrific performance of Sarah Anne Paulson as Mary Epps, the wife of the owner of a plantation where the protagonist, Solomon Northup, was held.

I’ll take this moment to remind you that while creative license was taken by filmmakers, and undoubtedly by the original publishers, Northup’s story is real. The Mary Epps portrayed by Paulson, with a cataclysmic range of hate expressions from seething silence to explosive violence, is based on women that Northup dealt with during his horrific journey from freedom to slavery and back again. The invoking of their privileged status; their belief, however inchoate, that their “virtue” must be protected at all costs, and certainly at the expense of black, brown or other marginalized folks, is a key Miss Ann trait.

In the wake of the stunning news that more than half of white women who voted on Nov. 8 opted for Donald Trump, I have concerns—and questions. I’m aware that not all white women are racist. But given the significant number of white women who supported…

What likely drove many of the white female Trump voters is the same instinct that drove white women to accuse black men of all manner of imagined affronts since at least the antebellum era: a deep, innate fear and resentment of black people, particularly of black men.

The patriarchal motif looms large in attempts to answer the question of what white female supporters hope to gain by voting for Trump. It isn’t strictly a zero-sum game of reaping “gains” per se, as much as it is holding ground that some white women perceive as being theirs alone: The white women who approved of Trump as leader of the free world are betting on his ability to preserve their protected status.

Whether they acknowledge it or not, white women do enjoy a higher rung on the social and economic order in the U.S. than do black and Latino women. The perceived “halo effect” of being in close proximity to powerful white men appears to be at the least a subtext of what drove some white women to vote for Trump.

Wall-to-Wall Media Coverage of Election 2016 Didn’t See Miss Ann

I’m not qualified to make a deep dive into the history of psychosocial causal factors for why some white women apparently still harbor such virulent fear and resentment of black men. And it also must be said that by now, versions of this resentment are directed at black women. This dynamic likely did inform the decisions of millions of white women who voted for the GOP candidate Nov. 8.

That their peculiar sentiments were not explored in detail and revealed by the legions of pollsters, campaign correspondents and pundits is cold comfort. I actually take responsibility, short of feeling guilty, for having missed this possibility that as America’s first black president, and his wife and children, occupied the White House—quite literally serving as the embodiment of the United States in the eyes of the world—there were millions of Miss Anns out there quietly seething.

The “Security Moms” who helped elect George W. Bush president in 2000 and 2004 were likely reacting to at least deeply buried Miss Ann instincts. And the periodic episodes of millennial-age white women such as Lena Dunham—who pride themselves on being “woke” and yet can slip right quick into Miss Ann behavior—is an example of the powerful effect. The 2013 episode in which a white woman named Ellen Sturtz rudely interrupted remarks by first lady Michelle Obama during a Washington, D.C., fundraiser is another stark example of Miss Ann entitlement.

Now, staring into the yawning abyss of a Trump presidency, I feel acutely that I’ve been betrayed. I’ve written before about my on-again, off-again concerns about the role of deference in black-white relationships in America, how individuals and institutions and systems are still shaped by long-standing expectations that blacks must always defer to white needs and preferences. Social media warriors such as DeRay Mckesson have pushed phrases like “white privilege” and “intersectionality” onto the public debating stages, which is good and bad: There are powerful platforms now and access to megaphones to define our positions … which inevitably makes many white people uncomfortable.

I make no excuses for them; I am only pointing out that chief among those most recently made uncomfortable by social and political developments over the past few decades are white women.

I have had my own run-ins with variations of the Miss Ann effect over the years. I just never considered that any women in my sphere—in my age, occupational or education cohort—might do such a damaging thing as vote for Trump.

Now I’m compelled to look more closely at some of the women I encounter on the regular; to regard them, not with fear or even stark trepidation, necessarily, but certainly with a far more cold-eyed assessment of what might lie beneath the smiles and words of bonhomie.

The Miss Anns of 21st-century America are no longer yelling at their menfolk to lash us harder. But by voting for Trump, and approving his leadership of the most powerful government in the world, they weaponized a terrible instrument of oppression to keep us in our place.

 

Amy Alexander, an award-winning writer and editor in Silver Spring, Md., is the author of four nonfiction books and has contributed to The Atlantic, The Nation, the Boston Globe and NPR. Amy is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice

 

Source: Was Donald Trump’s Election Miss Ann’s Revenge?

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“ON BEING WHITE AND OTHER LIES” James Baldwin, Essence Magazine 1984

ON BEING “WHITE” • AND OTHER LIES James Baldwin (1924-1987)

baldwinJames Baldwin was the greatest expert on white consciousness in the twentieth century United States. Born in what he described as the “southern community” of Harlem, Baldwin published six novels, including his brilliant treatment of fathers, sons, and religion in Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), and Giovanni’s Room (1956), a work concentrating on white, gay characters. Baldwin’s early essays, collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), and The Fire Next Time (1963), are works of remarkable range, lucidity, and compassion. But his scandalously underappreciated essays, generously sampled in The Price of the Ticket (1985), push Baldwin’s arguments regarding race and the meaning of America, racism, homophobia, and the “male prison,” and whiteness and the immigrant experience to unprecedented levels of insight. “On Being ‘White’ and Other Lies,” published originally in the popular African-American magazine Essence in 1984, is a dramatic reminder that “becoming American” meant learning to be white in a new way for European immigrants.

“ON BEING WHITE  AND OTHER LIES”  James Baldwin, Essence Magazine 1984

The crisis of leadership in the white community is remarkable—and terrifying—because there is, in fact, no white community. This may seem an enormous statement—and it is. I’m willing to be challenged. I’m also willing to attempt to spell it out. My frame of reference is, of course, America, or that portion of the North American continent that calls itself America. And this means I am speaking, essentially, of the European vision of the world—or more precisely; perhaps, the European vision of the universe. It is a vision as remarkable for what it pretends to include as for what it remorselessly diminishes, demolishes or leaves totally out of account.

There is, for example—at least, in principle—an Irish community: here, there, anywhere, or, more precisely, Belfast, Dublin and Boston. There is a German community: both sides of Berlin, Bavaria and Yorkville. There is an Italian community: Rome, Naples, the Bank of the Holy Ghost and Mulberry Street. And there is a Jewish community, stretching from Jerusalem to California to New York. There are English communities. There are French communities. There are Swiss consortiums. There are Poles: in Warsaw (where they would like us to be friends) and in Chicago (where because they are white we are enemies). There are, for that matter, Indian restaurants and Turkish baths. There is the underworld—the poor (to say nothing of those who intend to become rich) are always with us—but this does not describe a community It bears terrifying witness to what happened to everyone who got here, and paid the price of the ticket. The price was to become “white.”

No one was white before he/she came to America. It took generations, and a vast amount of coercion, before this became a white country. It is probable that it is the Jewish community or more accurately, perhaps, its remnants—that in America has paid the highest and most extraordinary price for becoming white. For the Jews came here from countries where they were not white, and they came here, in part, because they were not white; and incontestably in the eyes of the Black American (and not only in those eyes) American Jews have opted to become white, and this is how they operate. It was ironical to hear, for example, former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin declare some time ago that “the Jewish people bow only to God” while knowing that the state of Israel is sustained by a blank check from Washington.

Without further pursuing the implication of this mutual act of faith, one is nevertheless aware that the Black presence, here, can scarcely hope—at least, not yet—to halt the slaughter in South Africa. And there is a reason for that. America became white—the people who, as they claim, “settled” the country became white—because of the necessity of denying the Black presence, and justifying the Black subjugation.

No community can be based on such a principle—or, in other words, no community can be established on so genocidal a lie. White men—from Norway, for example, where they were Norwegians—became white: by slaughtering the cattle, poisoning the wells, torching the houses, massacring Native Americans, raping Black women. This moral erosion has made it quite impossible for those who think of themselves as white in this country to have any moral authority at all—privately, or publicly. The multitudinous bulk of them sit, stunned, before their TV sets, swallowing garbage that they know to be garbage, and—in a profound and unconscious effort to justify this torpor that disguises a profound and bitter panic pay a vast amount of attention to athletics: even though they know that the football player (the Son of the Republic, their sons!) is merely another aspect of the money-making scheme. They are either relieved or embittered by the presence of the Black boy on the team. I do not know if they remember how long and hard they fought to keep him off it.

I know that they do not dare have any notion of the price Black people (mothers and fathers) paid and pay. They do not want to know the meaning, or face the shame, of what they compelled—out of what they took as the necessity of being white—Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson or Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) to pay I know that they, themselves, would not have liked to pay it. There has never been a labor movement in this country, the proof being the absence of a Black presence in the so-called father-to-son unions. There are, perhaps, some niggers in the window; but Blacks have no power in the labor unions. Just so does the white community, as a means of keeping itself white, elect, as they imagine, their political (!) representatives. No nation in the world, including England, is represented by so stunning a pantheon of the relentlessly mediocre.

I will not name names I will leave that to you. But this cowardice, this necessity of justifying a totally false identity and of justifying what must be called a genocidal history, has placed everyone now living into the hands of the most ignorant and powerful people the world has ever seen: And how did they get that way? By deciding that they were white. By opting for safety instead of life. By persuading themselves that a Black child’s life meant nothing compared with a white child’s life. By abandoning their children to 180 BLACK ON WHITE the things white men could buy By informing their children that Black women, Black men and Black children had no human integrity that those who call themselves white were bound to respect. And in this debasement and definition of Black people, they debased and defamed themselves. And have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white. Because they think they are white, they do not dare confront the ravage and the lie of their history. Because they think they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all men are brothers.

Because they think they are white, they are looking for, or bombing into existence, stable populations, cheerful natives and cheap labor. Because they think they are white, they believe, as even no child believes, in the dream of safety Because they think they are white, however vociferous they may be and however multitudinous, they are as speechless as Lot’s wife— looking backward, changed into a pillar of salt. However-1 White being, absolutely, a moral choice (for there are no white people), the crisis of leadership for those of us whose identity has been forged, or branded, as Black is nothing new. We—who were not Black before we got here either, who were defined as Black by the slave trade—have paid for the crisis of leadership in the white community for a very long time, and have resoundingly, even when we face the worst about ourselves, survived, and triumphed over it. If we had not survived and triumphed, there would not be a Black American alive. And the fact that we are still here—even in suffering, darkness, danger, endlessly defined by those who do not dare define, or even confront, themselves is the key to the crisis in white leadership.

The past informs us of various kinds of people—criminals, adventurers and saints, to say nothing, of course, of popes—but it is the Black condition, and only that, which informs us concerning white people. It is a terrible paradox, but those who believed that they could control and define Black people divested themselves of the power to control and define themselves.

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Black Nationalism and Liberation | Boston Review

 

Nation of Islam counter-demonstration at NAACP rally in Harlem, 1961 / Photograph: NAACP collection, Library of Congress

In a world where Donald Trump’s presidential nomination speech has been endorsed by a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan—yet Black Lives Matter activists are accused of reverse racism for asking to not be murdered by police—what constitutes hate speech has become increasingly convoluted. In the aftermath of police killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, gunmen Micah Johnson and Gavin Long were immediately linked by media outlets to black nationalist groups such as the Nation of Islam (NOI), New Black Panther Party, Black Riders Liberation Party, and Washitaw Nation, despite their professions to have been acting alone. Not only did these depictions draw misleading lines to organizations that do not prescribe such acts of violence, they also overshadowed both mens’ backgrounds in cultures of military violence (Johnson joined the Army Reserves immediately after high school and Long was a former Marine sergeant).

In a desperate attempt to drive home a link to black nationalism and direct attention away from these other troubling vectors, some news outlets began referring to Johnson as “Micah X” (NOI members use “X” to replace their “slave names”). In fact his middle name was simply Xavier. Even progressive groups, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, play a legitimating role by identifying black nationalist groups as “black separatist hate groups,” leaving little room for meaningful distinctions between white supremacy and black nationalism. While groups such as the Nation of Islam have historically advocated for the separation of black communities, to assert that this position is simply the obverse of white supremacy—that is, black supremacy—overlooks the nuance of black nationalism. More importantly, it fails to account for the dramatically different relationships to power that black nationalist and white supremacist groups possess. White nationalism reinscribes and exalts the privileges of whiteness. Black nationalists council separation as an anti-racist practice and a method of empowerment in the absence of alternative avenues of power. To many black nationalists, this is the difference between life and death: the black community must either do for itself or perish.

The conflation of black and white nationalism is not new. In 1963 the New York Herald Tribune satirized what it perceived as the ironic similarities between white supremacists and black nationalists in a story entitled “Integrated Segregation.” Things “seem a trifle confused on the racial front these days. The segregationists are getting integrated and the integrationists are getting segregated,” the Tribune remarked. The article imagined a scene in which staunch segregationist George Wallace was explaining why racial segregation benefitted black Americans when “a Black Muslim popped up from behind, tapped him on the back and agreed with him.” Soon, the article predicted, the Congress for Racial Equality would “start picketing the N.A.A.C.P., while the Black Muslims set up an all-Negro chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.”

To many black nationalists, separation from whites is the difference between life and death: the black community must either do for itself or perish.

Understanding black nationalism as simply the mirror image of white supremacy, rather than an anti-racist practice, has deep roots in American political discourse. And in our current moment of colorblind “post-racialism,” when race-specific remedies such as affirmative action or reparations are derided as reverse racism—and even modest demands from Black Lives Matter for criminal justice reform are decried as anti-white—black nationalism has been once again mischaracterized using a host of long-stale tropes. We would be better served, not by simply dismissing black nationalism as the underbelly of white supremacy, but by understanding it as a tradition that is both liberative and anti-racist; one that does not mirror white supremacy, but repudiates it.

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W. D. Fard, the founder of the Nation of Islam, arrived in Detroit in 1930 and told black Detroiters that they “were not Americans but Asiatics.” This was part of a holistic alternative creation story that rejected the racist underpinnings of white American nationalism. Many of Fard’s followers were former followers of Marcus Garvey, left without an organization after the decline of his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in the late 1920s due to financial mismanagement and government infiltration. Garvey and the UNIA epitomized the goals of black nationalism, launching the most ambitious and successful Pan-Africanist vision in history. At its height, the UNIA had over 700 branches in 38 states, and its newspaper, Negro World, circulated throughout the African diaspora. Millions of black people were moved by Garvey’s message of racial pride embodied through the UNIA motto “One God! One Aim! One Destiny!” The NOI borrowed many of its black nationalist tenets from the UNIA, combining them with religious symbols, practices, and theologies drawn from the plethora of new northern, black, urban religious and racial-pride movements spawned by the Great Migration. This blending spoke to the diverse backgrounds of many early NOI members: in 1951 nineteen out of twenty-eight Muslims interviewed reported having previously been members in other movements such as black Masonry, the Israelite Movement, God’s Government on the Earth (dedicated to Liberian emigration), the Peace Movement of Ethiopia, Repatriation Movement to Liberia, and the Black Jews.

As historian Robin D. G. Kelley notes, many of these movements were influenced by a Black Zionist tradition that drew upon the narrative of the book of Exodus to imagine liberation and deliverance for black people around the world. These freedom dreams not only provided what he calls a “narrative of slavery, emancipation, and renewal,” but also a “language to critique America’s racist state since the biblical Israel represented a new beginning.” Beyond providing a framework for denouncing American racism, black nationalists addressed the racist power structures that governed their communities by creating jobs, businesses, schools, and places of worship. Racial separation was not simply about black communities’ physical relationship to white people; it was about changing the structures of power that governed those relationships through self-determination, community control, and new relationships to self and one another.

By 1959 the Nation of Islam was a burgeoning movement well known within urban black communities in the North but still largely unknown to white America. That summer, as Malcolm X traveled to Africa as a guest of Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mike Wallace (later of 60 Minutes fame) and black journalist Louis Lomax presented the NOI to white audiences for the first time. In their sensationalist documentary, The Hate That Hate Produced, NOI was compared to the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan. Members of the Nation were referred to as “black racists” and “black supremacists.” Its cautionary message to a largely white audience was that white racism would inevitably produce its black variant. As Malcolm X later recalled in his Autobiography, the show was meant to shock viewers, like when “Orson Welles frightened America with a radio program describing . . . an invasion by ‘men from Mars.’”

The Hate That Hate Produced was critical in launching the Nation of Islam into the public eye. But it also offered white viewers a language for understanding black nationalism that both intensified and allayed their fears. While racism was a plague that undermined American democracy, it was not a distinctly white characteristic. As Charlie Keil, a young white civil rights organizer at Yale during the early 1960s explained to me recently: “The Hate that Hate Produced allowed [whites] to sort of categorize the Muslims—the Nation of Islam—and treat them a certain way. . . . [It was] some way of saying that this was not an autonomous self-starting movement, but a reaction, an overreaction to a history of oppression.”

Throughout the 1960s black nationalists were castigated as “supremacists” who promoted the very racism and racial segregation that liberals were fighting against. This was stoked by white nationalists who saw calls for black racial separation as consistent with their belief in the benefits of racial segregation. As George Lincoln Rockwell, head of the American Nazi Party, told Alex Haley in a 1966 interview: “Malcolm X said the same thing I’m saying.”

Rockwell was not the only one confused about the difference between racial segregationand racial separation. In a highly-publicized Los Angeles trial in 1962 after police killed an unarmed member of the Los Angeles NOI mosque, the Los Angeles Times reported the “unusual problem in seating of spectators . . . when women members of the sect refused to accept seats alongside white persons.” The court eventually overturned this seating arrangement, and the press described this as “desegregation.” Los Angeles NAACP president Christopher Taylor joined the chorus of the aggrieved by arguing that he would be against any type of segregation, regardless of who initiated it. This decontextualized, colorblind insistence that any race demanding separation was calling for racial segregation was central to mischaracterizations of black nationalism during this period.

Malcolm X set about clarifying the Nation of Islam’s advocacy for racial separatism through dozens of debates with prominent civil rights figures on college campuses across the country in the early 1960s. He debated James Farmer at Cornell, Bayard Rustin at Howard, Louis Lomax at Yale, and the NAACP’s Walter Carrington at Harvard. Almost every debate was themed around the question: “Integration or Separation?” As Malcolm explained at Wesleyan University: “We are just as much against segregation as the most staunch integrationist.” But he added that black people did not “want to be free any more; they want integration. . . . They have confused their method with their objective.” In other words, black nationalists were not opposed to racial integration as an outcome of freedom struggles, or even as an organizing strategy, but they saw it as deeply flawed as the movement’s principal objective. More importantly, they pointed out the racist presumption of integration, which took for granted that white society and its values were more desirable. As Malcolm once sardonically asked, Who is the white man to be equal to?

More than simply critiquing integration, the Nation of Islam emphasized the importance of community control, an idea that flourished in upcoming years with the emergence of the Black Power movement. As Malcolm explained: “segregation means to regulate or control. . . . A segregated community is that forced upon inferiors by superiors. A separate community is done voluntarily by two equals.” Recognizing the pervasiveness of racial segregation, nationalists sought control over the businesses, healthcare, education, housing, and policing in their communities. Indeed, the Kerner Commission’s grim 1968 assessment that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal” was something understood within black communities for decades. Amidst this backdrop, nationalists called for greater autonomy. The distinction between segregation and separation was not a semantic pivot. It was a deeper analysis of power, and an assertion of self-determination.

Over sixty years since the Supreme Court struck down the constitutionality of “separate but equal” in Brown v. Board, it would seem that calls for racial separatism are a relic of the past. But that might be too hopeful. A 2014 UCLA study revealed higher levels of school segregation in many regions than in 1968, the year the Supreme Court decreed a more proactive approach to desegregation. Schools with less than 1 percent white students are now being referred to as “apartheid schools.” And while the South is no longer governed by Jim Crow laws, cities outside the South such as Chicago and Baltimore continue to be described by demographers as “hypersegregated.”

The denial of race is a fixture of racism. Black nationalists have often exposed the “colorblind,” coded racism of liberals.

Black critiques of school integration during the 1950s and 1960s were often decried. In the words of scholar Andrew Delbanco, novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston “consigned herself to oblivion” when she responded to the Brown v. Board decision by saying that she could “see no tragedy in being too dark to be invited to a white school affair.” After James Meredith enrolled as the first black student in the University of Mississippi’s history, Malcolm X told a courtroom that anytime a man “needs [an] escort of 15,000 troops to go to a college where he will be among people whose viciousness toward him is so deadly that he needs the Army there to protect him . . . that Negro is foolish if he thinks that he is going to get an education.” Education, not integration, should be the goal, both Hurston and Malcolm agreed. As Malcolm explained, “token integration” was pointless as long as there were “a couple million Negroes in Mississippi who haven’t been allowed to go to the Kindergarten in a decent school.”

Meanwhile, integration today is often illustrated through the exceptional accomplishments of a handful of black elites, most notably President Barack Obama, rather than evidenced by a substantial redistribution of wealth or educational and housing opportunities. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor demonstrates, the role of “black faces in high places” is often to obscure the common conditions facing many African Americans. Instead, black elected officials serve as interlocutors speaking to—and on behalf of—black communities. Taylor writes poignantly of the 2015 Baltimore uprising after the death of Freddie Gray: “When a Black mayor, governing a largely Black city, aids in the mobilization of a military unit led by a Black woman to suppress a Black rebellion, we are in a new period of the Black freedom struggle.” But this new period has unfortunately produced all-too-familiar outcomes for poor and working-class black people.

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The long history of black nationalist leaders having official meetings with white supremacist leaders is another narrative often mobilized as proof of the essential symmetry of the two movements. In 1922 Marcus Garvey met with the Imperial Wizard of the Klan, Edward Clarke, earning him swift denunciation by the NAACP. In 1961 Malcolm X and other NOI officials secretly met with the KKK in Atlanta to negotiate a non-aggression pact surrounding the NOI’s purchase of southern farmland. The following year American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell even appeared as an invited guest at the NOI’s Saviour’s Day convention in Chicago. When police in Monroe, Louisiana, illegally targeted and raided the city’s mosque with tear gas, rifles, and riot sticks, the Nation of Islam secured an interracial defense team: local black attorney James Sharpe, Jr., and Imperial Wizard of the National Knights of the Klan, James Venable. As Venable explained when taking the case, “I hate to say it but a colored man doesn’t have a chance in a courtroom in the South.”

The decision by black nationalists to meet or coordinate with white supremacists was often driven by a combination of pragmatism and a deep cynicism about the authenticity of liberals. In the case of the UNIA, Garvey negotiated an agreement with Clarke to sell stock in black businesses such as newspapers, factories, and his Black Star shipping line, which ambitiously hoped to link a global black economy in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas before failing due to poor business management. And although Malcolm X would later denounce the Nation of Islam’s détente with the Klan, the organization’s motivation for doing so was plainly and only to secure the right to farm in the South without danger of violent reprisal. And in the case against eight members of the NOI in Monroe, Venable successfully won an appeal for several of those convicted.

Black nationalists were also not uncritical of the white supremacists with whom they interacted, a fact often downplayed or forgotten. After his meeting with the Klan, Garvey told a crowd: “Mr. Clark [sic] did not tell me anything new; he told me what I discovered seven years ago. He told me the thing that caused me to have organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association four and a half years ago.” When Rockwell, wearing full Nazi regalia, donated twenty dollars to a collection plate at Saviour’s Day, there was a smattering of reluctant applause. Malcolm X belittled him by adding: “You got the biggest hand you ever got.” Equally, black nationalists used white supremacists to draw attention to the hypocrisy of liberals. Following his 1922 meeting, Garvey claimed that Klan members were “better friends to my race, for telling us who they are, and what they mean.” Malcolm used a similar device in his folk metaphor of the liberal “fox” and the conservative “wolf.” When comparing John F. Kennedy to George Wallace, Malcolm said: “Neither one loves you. The only difference is that the fox will eat you with a smile instead of a scowl.” He even penned a 1964 editorial entitled “Why I Am for Goldwater” in which he drew upon the same fox/wolf metaphor and cynically suggested that with Goldwater, “black people at least know what they are dealing with.”

Critics on the left who see these as misguided political strategies have marginalized black nationalists by painting them as racial conservatives, and thereby emptied black nationalists’ critiques of their incisiveness. For example, Paul Gilroy accuses Garvey of “black fascism” and C. L. R. James even compared him to Hitler. Others have taken Malcolm’s cynical support for Goldwater at face value, rather than understanding his rhetorical move to draw parallels between openly racist politicians and ostensibly liberal ones whose policies nonetheless gut the black community.

Black nationalist groups such as the UNIA and the NOI have rightly been critiqued for their deep patriarchy, homophobia, and tendency to reproduce the other trappings of empire. As historian Michelle Ann Stephens notes of Garvey, his “vision of the sovereign state figured in the black male sovereign; the desire for home at a more affective level figured in the woman of color.” Likewise, anti-Semitic comments by Nation of Islam leaders such as Louis Farrakhan have certainly buttressed comparisons between white and black nationalists. Most recently, Farrakhan stoked this fire by praising Donald Trump’s refusal to take money from Jewish donors.

But although charismatic leaders are often the voices we hear most prominently, for many rank-and-file members of the Nation of Islam and other black nationalist groups, the lived experience of racial pride, religious rebirth, and doing for oneself is a redemptive, affirming, and even lifesaving practice. Many members joined the NOI after feeling alienated in integrated, more middle-class organizations such as the NAACP. As Lindsey X told an interviewer, what the NAACP “wanted never seemed real to me. I think Negroes should create jobs for themselves rather than going begging for them.” Malcolm X’s autobiography is only the best-known narrative of religious and political redemption. In a long-running feature in the NOI’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, entitled “What Islam Has Done For Me,” members offered their conversion narratives and testified to the transformative practice of Islam. Robert 24X of Paterson, New Jersey, contributed: “I was a young drug addict who had spent too much time in the hells of Harlem’s East Side . . . [before] everything came into focus for me. . . . I stopped smoking, using profanity, and eating improper foods. And I’ve passed my biggest acid test—no more needles in the arm.”

Instead of positioning black nationalism as a reactionary, conservative ideology that simply apes the violence and hate of white supremacy, we might learn from its lessons today. If asked about the xenophobia and dangerous comments of conservative firebrand Donald Trump in our current election, Malcolm X might well have pivoted us back to Hillary Clinton’s questionable record on race, one which Black Lives Matter activists have pointed out includes racist dog whistles such as her comments about “super-predators” lacking empathy, her steadfast support for the devastating 1994 Crime Bill, and campaign money taken from private prison corporations. And beyond the hollow political discourse of election cycles, we must avoid the pitfalls of incessant claims of post-racialism that insist that to see race is to participate in racism. As we have witnessed with the familiar “All Lives Matter” rejoinder to “Black Lives Matter,” we are living in a time when people’s humanity is so denigrated that the mere valuation of life is taken by some whites to be a zero-sum game. The denial of race is a central fixture in the perpetuation of racism, and black nationalists have routinely called attention to the importance of racial pride while exposing the coded racism of liberals. Rather than draw facile lines between black nationalism and white supremacy, we are better served by understanding black nationalism as an anti-racist political tradition seeking to envision black American freedom and citizenship in a nation that has rarely devoted much effort toward either end.

Source: Black Nationalism and Liberation | Boston Review

The Permanent Crisis of Housing | Jacobin

This essay is adapted from the introduction of In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis, out now from Verso.

The symptoms of housing crisis are everywhere in evidence today. Households are being squeezed by the cost of living. Homelessness is on the rise. Evictions and foreclosures are commonplace. Segregation and poverty, along with displacement and unaffordability, have become the hallmarks of today’s cities. Urban and suburban neighborhoods are being transformed by speculative development, shaped by decisions made in boardrooms half a world away. Small towns and older industrial cities are struggling to survive.

In America, the housing crisis is especially acute in New York City. The city has more homeless residents now than at any time since the Great Depression. More than half of all households cannot afford the rent. Displacement, gentrification, and eviction are rampant. Two pillars of New York’s distinctive housing system — public housing and rent regulation — are both under threat.

But housing problems are not unique to New York. Shelter poverty is a problem throughout the United States. According to the standard measures of affordability, there is no US state where a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford to rent or own a one-bedroom dwelling.

Nationwide, nearly half of all renting households spend anunsustainable amount of their income on rent, a figure that is only expected to rise. This is not only a big-city issue. Around 30 percent of rural households cannot afford their housing, including nearly half of all rural renters.

In fact, the housing crisis is global in scope. London, Shanghai, São Paulo, Mumbai, Lagos, indeed nearly every major city faces its own residential struggles. Land grabs, forced evictions, expulsions, and displacement are rampant. According to the United Nations, the homeless population across the planet may be anywhere between one hundred million and one billion people, depending on how homelessness is defined.

It has been estimated that globally there are currently 330 million households — more than a billion people — that are unable to find a decent or affordable home. Some research suggests that in recent decades, residential displacement due to development, extraction, and construction has occurred on a scale that rivals displacement caused by disasters and armed conflicts. In China and India alone in the past fifty years, an estimated one hundred million people have been displaced by development projects.

And yet if there is broad recognition of the existence of a housing crisis, there is no deep understanding of why it occurs, much less what to do about it. The dominant view today is that if the housing system is broken, it is a temporary crisis that can be resolved through targeted, isolated measures. In mainstream debates, housing tends to be understood in narrow terms.

The provision of adequate housing is seen as a technical problem and technocratic means are sought to solve it: better construction technology, smarter physical planning, new techniques for management, more homeownership, different zoning laws, and fewer land use regulations. Housing is seen as the domain of experts like developers, architects, or economists. Certainly, technical improvements in the housing system are possible, and some are much needed. But the crisis is deeper than that.

We see housing in a wider perspective: as a political-economic problem. The residential is political — which is to say that the shape of the housing system is always the outcome of struggles between different groups and classes. Housing necessarily raises questions about state action and the broader economic system. But the ways in which social antagonisms shape housing are too often obscured.

Housing is under attack today. It is caught within a number of simultaneous social conflicts. Most immediately, there is a conflict between housing as lived, social space and housing as an instrument for profit-making — a conflict between housing as home and as real estate. More broadly, housing is the subject of contestation between different ideologies, economic interests, and political projects. More broadly still, the housing crisis stems from the inequalities and antagonisms of class society.

Reposing the Housing Question

The classic statement on the political-economic aspects of housing was written by Friedrich Engels in 1872. At the time, few disputed the fact that housing conditions for the industrial proletariat were unbearable. What Engels called “the housing question” was the question of why working-class housing appeared in the condition as it did, and what should be done about it.

Engels was generally pessimistic about the prospects for housing struggles per se. Criticizing bourgeois attempts at housing reform, he argued that housing problems should be understood as some of “the numerous, smaller, secondary evils which result from the present-day capitalist mode of production.”

He concluded, “As long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist, it is folly to hope for an isolated solution to the housing question or of any other social question affecting the fate of the workers.” For Engels, housing struggles were derivative of class struggle. Housing problems, then, could only be addressed through social revolution.

We take from Engels the idea that the housing question is embedded within the structures of class society. Posing the housing question today means uncovering the connections between societal power and the residential experience. It means asking who and what housing is for, who controls it, who it empowers, who it oppresses. It means questioning the function of housing within globalized neoliberal capitalism.

However, residential struggles today are not simply derivative of other conflicts. Housing movements are significant political actors in their own right. The housing question may not be resolvable under capitalism. But the shape of the housing system can be acted upon, modified, and changed.

The social theorist Henri Lefebvre helps us understand the political role of housing and the potential for changing it. In his 1968 book The Right to the City, Lefebvre argued that industrial insurrection was not the only force for social transformation. An “urban strategy” for revolutionizing society was possible.

Given changes to the nature of work and of urban development, the industrial proletariat was no longer the only agent of revolutionary change, or even the predominant one. Lefebvre claimed that there was a new political subject: the city dweller. More generally, Lefebvre invokes the politics of “the inhabitant,” a category that includes any worker, in the broadest sense, seen from the perspective of everyday social and residential life.

Lefebvre is vague about what exactly the inhabitant as a political subject will accomplish with the urban revolution. But he does point to a different way of inhabiting. He imagines a future where social needs would not be subordinated to economic necessity, where disalienated dwelling space would be universally available, where both equality and difference would be the basic principles of social and political life.

Whether or not anything like Lefebvre’s urban revolution is on the horizon, we can use his ideas to understand a basic point: the politics of housing involve a bigger set of actors and interests than is recognized either by mainstream debates or by conventional political-economic analyses such as that offered by Engels.

In the orthodox account, the only conflicts that matter are those surrounding exploitation and value. But the ruling class also needs to solidify its rule, and preserving the ability to exploit is only one aspect of this. There are also political, social, and ideological imperatives that significantly affect residential conditions.

In the financialized global economy — which was only beginning to emerge when Lefebvre was writing — real estate has come to have new prominence in relation to industrial capital. Housing and urban development today are not secondary phenomena. Rather, they are becoming some of the main processes driving contemporary global capitalism.

If Lefebvre is right, housing is becoming an ever more important site for the reproduction of the system — a change that might open new strategic possibilities for housing movements to achieve social change.

Whose Crisis?

Critics, reformers, and activists have invoked the term “housing crisis” for more than a hundred years. The phrase once again became pervasive after the global economic meltdown of 2008. But we need to be careful with this usage of the concept of crisis.

The idea of crisis implies that inadequate or unaffordable housing is abnormal, a temporary departure from a well- functioning standard. But for working-class and poor communities, housing crisis is the norm. Insufficient housing has been the mark of dominated groups throughout history. Engels made exactly this point:

The so-called housing shortage, which plays such a great role in the press nowadays, does not consist in the fact that the working class generally lives in bad, overcrowded or unhealthy dwellings. This shortage is not something peculiar to the present; it is not even one of the sufferings peculiar to the modern proletariat in contradistinction to all earlier oppressed classes. On the contrary, all oppressed classes in all periods suffered more or less uniformly from it.

For the oppressed, housing is always in crisis. The reappearance of the term “housing crisis” in headlines represents the experiences of middle-class homeowners and investors, who faced unexpected residential instability following the 2008 financial implosion.

The idea of a housing crisis is politically loaded. Though the concept of crisis has a long history in critical theory and radical practice, it can be deployed for other purposes. In the United States, the discourse of housing crisis is often used to condemn state “interference” in housing markets. In the United Kingdom, the crisis frame is invoked in support of granting new legal powers to developers in order to override local planning guidelines.

Discrete moments when housing crises become acute tend to be interpreted away as exceptions to a fundamentally sound system. But this is an ideological distortion. The experience of crisis in the residential sphere reflects and amplifies the broader tendencies towards insecurity in capitalist societies. Housing crisis is a predictable, consistent outcome of a basic characteristic of capitalist spatial development: housing is not produced and distributed for the purposes of dwelling for all; it is produced and distributed as a commodity to enrich the few. Housing crisis is not a result of the system breaking down but of the system working as it is intended.

We should reject ideological versions of the concept of housing crisis. But the term is still useful. For those compelled to dwell in oppressive and alienating conditions, housing crisis is not empty rhetoric; it is daily reality. To millions of households, “crisis” describes precisely the chaos, fear, and disempowerment that they experience. The state of their housing is critical indeed.

Our objective, then, is not to argue for the resolution of some temporary crisis and return to the status quo. We use the concept of crisis to highlight the ways that the contemporary housing system is unsustainable by its very nature. We point to the crisis tendencies in housing under contemporary capitalism, in order to draw attention to the urgent but systemic character of these problems.

In Defense of Housing

We do not seek to defend the housing system as it currently stands, which is in many ways indefensible. What needs defending is the use of housing as home, not as real estate. We are interested in the defense of housing as a resource that should be available to all.

Housing means many things to different groups. It is home for its residents and the site of social reproduction. It is the largest economic burden for many, and for others a source of wealth, status, profit, or control. It means work for those who construct, manage, and maintain it; speculative profit for those buying and selling it; and income for those financing it. It is a source of tax revenue and a subject of tax expenditures for the state, and a key component of the structure and functioning of cities.

Our concern is squarely with those who reside in and use housing — the people for whom home provides use values rather than exchange value. From the perspective of those who inhabit it, housing unlocks a whole range of social, cultural, and political goods. It is a universal necessity of life, in some ways an extension of the human body. Without it, participation in most of social, political, and economic life is impossible.

Housing is more than shelter; it can provide personal safety and ontological security. While the domestic environment can be the site of oppression and injustice, it also has the potential to serve as a confirmation of one’s agency, cultural identity, individuality, and creative powers.

The built form of housing has always been seen as a tangible, visual reflection of the organization of society. It reveals the existing class structure and power relationships. But it has also long been a vehicle for imagining alternative social orders. Every emancipatory movement must deal with the housing question in one form or another. This capacity to spur the political imagination is part of housing’s social value as well.

Housing is the precondition both for work and for leisure. Controlling one’s housing is a way to control one’s labor as well as one’s free time, which is why struggles over housing are always, in part, struggles over autonomy. More than any other item of consumption, housing structures the way that individuals interact with others, with communities, and with wider collectives. Where and how one lives decisively shapes the treatment one receives by the state and can facilitate relations with other citizens and with social movements.

No other modern commodity is as important for organizing citizenship, work, identities, solidarities, and politics.

It is this side of housing — its lived, universally necessary, social dimension, and its identity as home — that needs defending. Our challenge as analysts, as residents, and as participants in housing struggles is to understand the causes and consequences of the multidimensional attack on housing. Our goal is to provide a critical understanding of the political-economic nature of housing, such that we may develop a greater sense of the actions needed to address housing’s crises today and in the future.

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Source: The Permanent Crisis of Housing | Jacobin

Black Girls, Domestic Violence, and the Limits of Self-Defense | Black Agenda Report

 

Black Girls, Domestic Violence, and the Limits of Self-Defense

by Lindsey E. Jones

Recent scholarship in the history of black women and the carceral state illustrates the extent to which systems of criminal justice and law enforcement have both historically failed to protect black female victims of domestic violence and criminalized black women who rise up in their own defense.

Black Girls, Domestic Violence, and the Limits of Self-Defense

by Lindsey E. Jones

This article previously appeared in the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society.

Legal systems in this country explicitly and implicitly render black women defenseless against intra- and interracial violence.”

The case of Bresha Meadows, an African American teenage girl in Ohio, is a sad commentary on the failure of the state to protect victims of domestic violence. After a lifetime of watching him physically and psychologically abuse her mother—and of being subjected to threats and verbal abuse, along with her siblings—Bresha allegedly shot her father to death while he slept on July 28, 2016. While her mother’s family and her attorney consider her actions to have been in self-defense, the county prosecutor has charged Bresha with aggravated murder. It remains to be seen whether she will be tried as a juvenile or as an adult. At stake is the possibility that Bresha, who marked her fifteenth birthday in juvenile hall just weeks after her arrest, could spend the rest of her life in prison if convicted as an adult.

While the case is making its way through the courts and the families of Brandi Meadows (Bresha’s mother) and Jonathan Meadows (Bresha’s deceased father) share conflicting stories with news media about the latter’s personality and propensity toward violence, as well as their conflicting opinions about premeditation versus self-defense, it is important to note that this case is neither isolated nor entirely new. Recent scholarship in the history of black women and the carceral state illustrates the extent to which systems of criminal justice and law enforcement have both historically failed to protect black female victims of domestic violence and criminalized black women who rise up in their own defense.

“Survivors of intimate partner violence dramatically overrepresented among incarcerated black women.”

Historian Kali Gross, in providing historical context to the case of Marissa Alexander, argues that the state’s willingness to condemn this woman for defending herself against an abusive husband points back through centuries of American history to “the legacies of an exclusionary politics of protection whereby black women were not entitled to the law’s protection, though they could not escape its punishment.” Gross traces the ways in which “racialized, gendered notions of protection” have, from the seventeenth century on, shaped legal systems in this country that explicitly and implicitly render black women defenseless against intra- and interracial violence. She argues that this exclusionary politics of protection fuels the current mass incarceration crisis, with survivors of intimate partner violence dramatically overrepresented among incarcerated black women.1

Bresha Meadows’s case exemplifies Gross’s concept of the exclusionary politics of protection. This past May, Bresha ran away from home to the home of an aunt, Martina Latessa. Latessa, a police officer working in a domestic violence unit in Cleveland, was forced to return Bresha to her father, who had reported the girl as having been kidnapped by her aunt. Latessa reported her brother-in-law to Family Services, which resulted in an agent interviewing Brandi Meadows about the allegations of abuse—as Jonathan Meadows sat beside her. Neither law enforcement nor the state bureaucracy could protect Brandi Meadows and her children from this abuse, which she and her family assert intensified after this incident. As a result of the state’s failure to end the cycle of trauma in her family, Bresha Meadows took matters into her own hands—and was charged with aggravated murder, for which she could potentially spend the rest of her life in prison.

Gross’s essay compellingly reveals the intersections of race, gender, and class in black women’s hyper-vulnerability to domestic violence; state failure to prevent or put a stop to said violence; and the too-common outcome of black women being incarcerated for offenses resulting from attempting to defend themselves against domestic violence. However, as the case of Bresha Meadows illustrates, there is another vector of identity that often doesn’t appear in our historical analyses of black females and the carceral state: that is, age.2

“For black women in the Jim Crow South—as in antebellum times—domestic violence was constitutive of domestic labor.”

Where race, gender, and class have worked together to create the conditions discussed above, the erasure of age difference has historically created disadvantages for black girl victims of domestic violence. One prominent example recently provided by historian LaShawn Harris is that of Virginia Christian. Often referred to as the first woman to be executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Christian was in reality a seventeen-year-old girl when she was killed by electric chair in 1912—a fact that her advocates hoped would persuade the state to show her mercy.3

Virginia Christian belonged to a working-class black family in Hampton, Virginia, and needed to work in order to contribute to her household, including her disabled mother. From the age of thirteen, she served as a laundress for a middle-class white family named Belote in Hampton. During a dispute about missing jewelry that turned physical, Virginia killed the matriarch of the family—a crime she confessed to committing in self-defense. Harris argues that “Christian’s act of self-defense delineated working-class African American women’s impetuous ways of protecting their bodies and their often last attempts to seek and secure long-awaited personal justice—especially when legal protection seemed beyond their reach.” While there is no archival evidence that Ida Belote had laid hands upon Virginia Christian prior to this altercation, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that for black women in the Jim Crow South—as in antebellum times—domestic violence was constitutive of domestic labor, the racially prescribed set of occupations for black women and girls.4

Christian’s response was most immediately triggered by Belote’s accusations of theft and subsequent physical assault on March 18, 1912, but it is conceivable that she was also responding to other physical and psychological traumas accumulated over three years of working in the Belote household.

The analogy from Virginia Christian in 1912 to Bresha Meadows in 2016 is imperfect, but these cases both illustrate the extent to which the state has failed to consider age in evaluating black girls’ actions in self-defense from domestic violence. Sadly, over a century later, Bresha’s advocates find themselves making very similar demands of a system that hasn’t changed enough since Virginia’s trial, and employing very similar tactics in their pursuit of mercy for this abused adolescent girl.

“In the minds of whites, the accused, regardless of her age, was a deviant and vulgar black murderess that had to be punished for her crime.”

In the case of Virginia Christian, the Commonwealth of Virginia ignored evidence that Christian committed the crime at sixteen years of age in order to prevent her minority status from impeding its plan to execute her. Harris argues that, “in the minds of whites, the accused, regardless of her age, was a deviant and vulgar black murderess that had to be punished for her crime; essentially, Christians’ race trumped her gender and age. By denying Christian of her adolescent status, the State of Virginia sought to punish her to the full extent of the law.”5

Black and white Americans wrote letters and circulated petitions pleading with the Commonwealth to consider Christian’s youth as a factor in her crime and her punishment and to commute her sentence from execution to life in prison. In the end, neither Christian’s appeal to self-defense, nor her advocates’ appeal to adolescence, could spare her from the lethal retribution of the state.

In a throwback to the campaign to spare Virginia Christian’s life in 1912, advocates of Bresha Meadows are writing letters and circulating petitions in the hope that local prosecutors take into account her age and her status as a survivor of domestic violence as they proceed with charges against her. Because of the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons that it is unconstitutional to execute a person for a crime committed under eighteen years of age, the death penalty is not on the table for Bresha. However, because prosecutors could decide to try her in adult court, it is a real possibility that she could be sentenced to life in prison.

A century after Virginia Christian’s advocates passionately and strategically petitioned the Commonwealth of Virginia for life imprisonment, Bresha’s advocates argue that no adolescent should spend life in prison—especially not a girl pushed toward drastic action by a lifetime of trauma and abuse. There is thankfully still time for the prosecutors of Trumbull County to give real weight to Bresha Meadows’ traumatic life history, and to the fact that it spans fifteen short years, as they decide what action to pursue.

Lindsey E. Jones is a PhD Candidate in History of Education at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and a 2016-2018 Pre-doctoral Fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. Her dissertation project, “‘Not a Place of Punishment’: the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls, 1915-1940,” historicizes the education and incarceration of black girls by examining Virginia’s only reformatory for delinquent African American girls. Follow her on Twitter @noumenal_woman.

NOTES:

1. Kali N. Gross, “African American Women, Mass Incarceration, and the Politics of Protection,” Journal of American History 102, no.1 (2015), 25–33.

2. For a contemporary examination of black girls, interpersonal violence, and the carceral state, see Jody Miller, Getting Played: African American Girls, Urban Inequality, and Gendered Violence (New York: NYU Press, 2008).

3. Lashawn Harris, “The ‘Commonwealth of Virginia vs. Virginia Christian’: Southern Black Women, Crime & Punishment in Progressive Era Virginia,” Journal of Social History 47, no.4 (2014), 922–42.

4. See, for instance: Tera W. Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997); Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Sarah Haley, “‘Like I Was a Man’: Chain Gangs, Gender, and the Domestic Carceral Sphere in Jim Crow Georgia,” Signs 39 (Autumn 2013).

5. Harris cites “a 1910 Virginia statue prohibiting death to ‘any child under seventeen years of age who is charged with any felony, and never having been heretofore convicted in any court of a misdemeanor’” (931).

Source: Black Girls, Domestic Violence, and the Limits of Self-Defense | Black Agenda Report

If You Thought Obama Was Giving Less Military Gear to Local Police Departments, You Were Wrong :: In These Times

If You Thought Obama Was Giving Less Military Gear to Local Police Departments, You Were Wrong

Despite President Obama’s much-touted 2015 executive order, an In These Timesinvestigation reveals evidence that police departments are still receiving as much military hardware from the Pentagon as ever.


WHEN PROTESTORS TOOK TO THE STREETS OF FERGUSON, MO., IN 2014 in response to the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, they also turned the nation’s attention to a related issue: the growing militarization of local law enforcement. Images of suburban police threatening demonstrators with armored vehicles and assault rifles prompted changes to the controversial 1033 program, through which the Department of Defense (DOD) transfers surplus military equipment to police departments nationwide.

President Obama’s May 2015 announcement that he would freeze giveaways of certain gear drew outrage from law enforcement groups such as the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), which later charged that the banned equipment was “essential in protecting communities against violent criminals and terrorists.” After shooters targeted and killed uniformed police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge in July, NAPO and other groups doubled down on criticisms that the administration was putting officers’ lives at risk. On July 21, Reuters reported that, following a meeting with police groups, Obama had agreed to revisit the ban.

But an In These Times investigation provides evidence that, in practice, the president’s much-ballyhooed reforms to the 1033 program have done little to stem the flow of battlefield gear to cops.

In fact, the total value of equipment distributed through the program actually increased in the year following the ban, according to figures provided to In These Times by Michelle McCaskill, media relations chief for the DOD’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which oversees the shipments.

So far in fiscal year 2016, (Oct. 1, 2015 – September 13), the DLA has transferred $494 million worth of gear to local police departments, In These Times learned from McCaskill.

That far exceeds the $418 million of equipment sent to police in FY 2015 (Oct. 1, 2014 – Sept. 30, 2015). According to an analysis published in May by the transparency organization Open the Books, 2015 was already a peak year for such shipments within the past decade, exceeded only by 2014’s $787 million. Since 2006, more than $2.2 billion of hardware has found its way into the hands of police, according to the report.

Many police accountability advocates warned from the outset that last year’s reforms were too limited in scope. Of seven items on the list of prohibited equipment, only one had actually been given to police departments in recent years, noted a May 2015 article in the Guardian. While the Obama administration placed additional requirements on the transfer of certain aircraft, armored vehicles and riot gear considered especially intimidating to civilians, hundreds of pieces of such equipment are still finding their way into the hands of local police. So far this year, for example, cops have acquired more than 80 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs)—15-ton vehicles that were originally designed to withstand roadside bombs in war zones.

A SECOND LIFE FOR LETHAL WEAPONRY

The 1033 program, which refers to a section of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act that created it, is a popular way for cash-strapped local law enforcement agencies to get gear on the cheap. Police departments typically are responsible only for the costs of shipping and maintaining the equipment.

Advocates also say the 1033 program allows underutilized Pentagon inventory to find a second life. “Since the American taxpayers have paid for this equipment already, does it not make more sense to share this equipment with local law enforcement agencies, as opposed to asking for the taxpayers to buy the same equipment twice?” asks Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, in an email to In These Times.

ACLU Minnesota legal director Teresa Nelson says that she is sensitive to the needs of law enforcement. “Nobody wants the police to be unsafe,” she says. “At the same time … when you have police in armored vehicles that look like tanks, you really change the dynamic between the police and the communities they serve.”

In January 2015, Obama responded to growing criticism of the program in the wake of Ferguson by issuing Executive Order 13688, which created a federal interagency group to investigate police militarization and come up with recommendations. As a result of this investigation, police were prohibited from receiving certain equipment, including bayonets, tracked armored vehicles, firearms and ammunition of .50‐caliber or higher, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms and weaponized aircraft.

Critics said the reforms were superficial. Last year, an NPR analysis of 10 years of DLA data showed that of all the aircraft given to local police through the 1033 program, none were weaponized. The investigation further revealed that nearly 87 percent of the hundreds of armored vehicles being used at the time by local police ran on wheels, not tracks. Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Social Justice Studies and one of the leading researchers of police militarization, told the Guardian that the new rules were nothing more than a “publicity stunt.”

The ongoing transfer of armored vehicles, such as MRAPs, epitomizes these criticisms. Since the vehicles run on wheels, they aren’t on the new list of banned transfers. Nevertheless, their heft and design for use in warfare illustrates what critics see as the increasingly blurry line between police and military.

According to the DLA, police departments have received 708 MRAPs through the 1033 program since 2011, when the drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan first created a large reserve of unused equipment. At press time, 84 police departments had received the armored vehicles this year. More than 100 others have been approved and are awaiting delivery, according to DLA records obtained by In These Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.

As part of the Obama administration’s reforms, law enforcement agencies receiving “controlled” items, such as MRAPs, must demonstrate that they plan to train officers on proper use. But training materials used by various California police departments, obtained by the website MuckRock in June, show that instructional time for MRAPs ranges from 20 hours to as little as 15 minutes.

COMING TO A TOWN NEAR YOU?

Previously, only large urban police departments would have had the resources to justify acquiring the armored vehicles, which can cost upwards of $1 million. In 2014, Bill Johnson, executive director of NAPO, told USA Today that the 1033 program allows smaller police forces to play catch-up: “It’s their turn to get some of this equipment.”

That may explain why the 1033 program is particularly popular in states with significant rural populations such as Minnesota, where 74 of 87 county sheriffs have received surplus military equipment since 2005—mostly assault rifles and armored vehicles.

Jason Dingman, sheriff of sparsely populated Stevens County, Minn., told In These Times that an MRAP arrived this summer with only 56 miles on it. Virtually brand-new, the armored vehicle will just need a paint job and a fresh battery before being ready for use by West Central SWAT—a multi-agency task force that carries out tactical operations along the South Dakota border, but is called to the scene just six to eight times per year. “If we’re just executing a search warrant then we won’t bring [the MRAP] out,” Dingman says.
“But if the bad guy starts shooting at us then it’s a different situation and we can call out the MRAP to give our officers more protection.”

The DLA’s data show that police agencies receiving MRAPs in 2016 included those serving such tiny municipalities as Fallon, Nev. (pop. 8,458), and Westwego, La. (pop. 8,542). Even the police force in rural Pigeon Forge, Tenn. (pop. 6,171), found the need for an MRAP—perhaps to more effectively repel potential terrorist attacks on Dollywood, the town’s Dolly Parton-themed amusement park.

While police contend that equipment such as MRAPs are used defensively, renewed concerns arise whenever protests are met with a show of force. Following the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge in July, a local reporter videotaped an armored vehicle pushing up against a crowd of protestors.

John Lindsay-Poland, who has researched the topic for the anti-militarism group American Friends Service Committee, thinks that the 1033 program fosters a “warrior mentality” that can further corrode police-community relations. “If we do not want our police to be at war in our communities,” he tellsIn These Times, “then we shouldn’t equip them with war-fighting equipment.”

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From the November 2016 Issue

SETH KERSHNER is a writer and researcher whose work has appeared in outlets such as Rethinking Schools, Sojourners, and Boulder Weekly. He is the co-author (with Scott Harding) of Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Source: If You Thought Obama Was Giving Less Military Gear to Local Police Departments, You Were Wrong