When Bad Things Happen to Beautiful Minds

Sister of the Yam

POLITICS. HIP HOP. AND THE OCCASIONAL LOVE POEM.

When Bad Things Happen to Beautiful Minds

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For lack of a better reference, the moment felt like Lauryn Hill circa 2000: Kanye West spitting his characteristically impulsive but nod-worthy truths–my favorite that night was his deft critique of “rap beef” –riddled by the painfully familiar feeling that what we were also witnessing was a beautiful mind unraveling.

Some who watched the Kanye West-Jimmy Kimmel interview this past Thursday, who had been keeping close watch of the many other interviewstweetspaparazzi attacks, and fashion statements that brought Kanye to Kimmel’s desk that night, and who were perhaps also nostalgic for the pre-kilt, pre-Kim, College Dropout Kanye that used to croon about family dinners and the graveshift of dead-end jobs, observed in Kanye a dangerously heightened mix of mania and megalomania; heard a wired, rambling incoherence; and chronicled those twenty plus minutes as exhibit Z that Kanye West is indeed battling some sort of mental health crises.

Others picked up on a mouth racing to keep up with a mind in constant overdrive; they tuned into Kanye’s fearless, biting critique; and cheered along the self-proclaimed Genius-Underdog sparring with the lovable Everyman type that always seems to win these kinds of debates.

Both interpretations of that night–that Kanye was emitting his last fumes before meltdown or that he is deep beyond reproach–are freighted with their own particular dangers. On one hand, we risk participating in a rich tradition of silencing and managing rightfully angry people of color who dare to speak up by calling them crazy. On the other hand, fawning hero-worship can doom us to pulling up a chair and whipping out the popcorn to shit shows that could very well be prevented; Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston hang heavy in my mind as the parables for how fatal that kind of spectatorship can truly be.

Positioning oneself in the gray is often indicia of cowardice, but here I am in this whack limboland of hedge and no answers: neither hypotheses fully work for me.

 

That night I saw a man who was wounded. Who never expected his naked struggle for legitimacy would become fodder for late-night mockery or that it would hurt that much–that he, as an adult man with serious indictments against an industry that made and now mangles him, would be infantalized into a whiny, ranting child. I saw a man deeply frustrated by an industry that has smugly siloed bright black and brown men into the white noise of hip-hop so that it can exoticize, imitate, appropriate, and snub them safely from afar. I saw a man who was lonely and misunderstood, who had had been stripped of his support system and now floats about unmoored. I saw a man who thought his creativity and hard word would somehow immunize him from the garden variety isms that topple heroes and unmentionables alike. I saw a man who, like many talented men of color, whether they hide out in Ivy League institutions or behind mics, has never been held accountable for the gaps in his logic and the tangles in his heart strings–for the materialism, misogyny and violence that hobbles his otherwise brave and sophisticated wisdom about race and class in this country. (But that goes for Common, Nas, Tupac and Kendrick Lamar too). I saw a man who wears his vanity like a XXL T-shirt as armor for the much smaller, more vulnerable man underneath. I saw a man who is so transfixed by needing affirmation from White America, so obsessed with his worthiness and seriousness as an artist, an intellectual and a man that he can’t quite calibrate, stake out terms for himself, laugh at the jokes that will surely come, or brave the insults that will never end. And I saw a man who can’t help but still be, many albums and awards later, the creative boy in the back of classrooms, saving up for Gucci loafers, standing up against gangster bullies and inventing those self-survival myths and mechanisms that get you out but never quite set you free.

 

Black America is mad at Kanye because he didn’t properly learn the lesson that every person of color must learn to remain sane in an insanely racist world–how not to offer your neck to the guillotine. Quite frankly, we’re confused: did Kanye think his art, his name, his stuff, his women-as-props would exempt him from blackness? Did he think his laying out of dreams, the unbridled honesty and that faux Little Engine That Could confidence could be the brave preemptive moves that would keep him safe? Further, we’re exhausted by his lack of groundedness . Kanye cannot seem to locate himself in a long history of great people doing great things while hearing as many–if not more and more serious–no’s than he. Lack of perspective is a male privilege and also the white privilege Kanye will never have and should never fight for.

Terrifyingly, Kanye’s sins for White America are much simpler: he dared to call himself great without their permission. For that, he is an asshole.  For that, he is dangerous. For that, he is crazy.

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Deciding what Kanye is–”crazy”, genius, or troubled–is important because this is, of course, much bigger than Kanye. He stands next to Lauryn Hill, Dave Chapelle, and others with beautiful minds and broken spirits. I do not think it is coincidence that all three–Kanye, Lauryn, Dave and we can even throw Michael Jackson in–have been accused of “craziness” at the height of critiquing the ugliness and the isms of the industries and audiences that have propelled them to fame. I think we should understand that “crazy” is the Atomic Bomb of the English language, that it’s a no-return obliteration of personhood and credibility. And we should also remember that ”crazy” has been a way of managing female sexual desirequeer eroticism and political ideology; yesterday’s history is today’s wet paint. As Dave once said, “the worst thing to call somebody is crazy. It’s dismissive. ‘I don’t understand this person. So they’re crazy.’ That’s bullshit.”

I believe in considering Dave’s follow up to that thought: “These people are not crazy. They’re strong people. Maybe their environment is a little sick.”drwdx-pw5_ru-deyv-shapell-aktery-dave-chappelle[1]

And that–the sick environment–is the one thing that never, ever gets enough play: if, as we speculate, all these beautiful, beautiful minds are breaking, undoing themselves, unfurling like tightly wound string, we owe it to ourselves to at least ask if something drives them to it. Certainly, mental illness is complex and at times turns on with no external switch, but we have testimony from artists we respect and admire, that something is rotten in Hollywood.

As Lauryn said after her hiatus from music, “When artists experience danger and crises…everyone easily accepts that there was something either dysfunctional or defective with the artist, rather than look at, and fully examine, the system and its means and its policies of exploiting/’doing business’.”

Over the course of a short decade, so many celebrities have fallen apart before my eyes: shaving their heads, ripping apart cameras, tearing off clothes, eating themselves into bloated existence or not eating themselves into invisible non-existence, drinking and drugging fast lives and slow deaths, basically begging us to listen in the most literal, primal languages possible, and we still keep diagnosing symptoms instead of curing the disease and the whole thing seems wild to me.

If mental illness is a dialectic between the person and the space,  then its source is not wholly the artist nor Hollywood, but I know that what Kanye and so many others deserve is the clean slate and the fighting chance Kanye kept quoting Richard Pryor to talk about.

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If this past Thursday was only an open-aired breakdown of mental health, then we need better language. Because though we complain mental health in this country and for black folks in particular isn’t talked about, that’s not entirely true: we talk about it all the time; we just talk about it poorly. If finding oneself on the edge deserves a life-sentence of being called “crazy,” of being dismissed, written off, and laughed at, of not being heard, then no wonder the shame and the silence. Particularly for artists, whose whole careers and identities are based on being experienced, interpreted, listened to and gazed upon: mattering.  Truth is, there are those who are dying from, but more curiously living with, mental illness in our midst; they are flying our planes, shaking our hands, watching our kids, loving us, and staring back at us from mirrors. And some of the great mindswe most admire produced art, theories, and inventions despite and because of battles with mental illness. Furthermore, achieving mental health is often a lifetime of strenuously and intentionally maintaining the balance; there is not one discrete day you are sick and one discrete day you are well. Given the enormity, pervasiveness, and constantly looming threat of mental illness, we have to figure out a way for people to matter even if they have not sought or successfully phased out of treatment. We can’t just keep calling people “crazy” as the lever we pull to extradite them into irrelevance. The balance is hard but important: how to hear folks when they need help, how to hear folks even if they need help, how to empower them to seek help, how to be the help they seek, and how to know when we can’t be.

If this Thursday was also about something bad happening to a beautiful mind and that something bad is, as Lauryn puts it, “a machine that overlook[s] the need to to take care of the people who produce the sounds that have a lot to do with the health and well-being of society,” then we still need transformation.  We not only need to imagine and create a celebrity culture that does not drive the talented, the strong, and the brave into hiding but we also need to collectively figure out how to survive that heartless, breathless machine in the meantime. For Kanye, the machine is the fashion and the music industries, but for any one of us, it could be the university or the office or the political regime. If we become as angry as we deserve to be, then the isms we fight will rob us of our life joy. We have to somehow figure out how to resist and dissent without allowing that enterprise to swallow us whole and turn us stale and I have faith we can win this war without quotable tweets or serving as the one-person congregation of the Church of our own self-proclaimed Godliness. Kanye once said that he, like Dave Chapelle, has to laugh to keep from crying and I suggest that he works harder on that laugh–not for the Kimmels but for Kanye.

My Racist Encounter at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

 

 

 

My Racist Encounter at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Posted: 05/07/2013

The faux red carpet had been laid out for the famous and the wannabe-famous. Politicians and journalists arrived at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, bedazzled in the hopes of basking in a few fleeting moments of fame, even if only by osmosis from proximity to celebrities. New to the Washington scene, I was to experience the spectacle with my husband, a journalist, and enjoy an evening out. Or at least an hour out. You see, as a spouse I was not allowed into the actual dinner. Those of us who are not participating in the hideous schmooze-fest that is this evening are relegated to attending the cocktail hour only, if that. Our guest was the extraordinarily brilliant Oscar-nominated director of Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin. Mr. Zeitlin’s unassuming demeanor was a refreshing taste of humility in a sea of pretentious politicians reeking of narcissism.

As I left the hotel and my husband went to the ballroom for the dinner, I realized he still had my keys. I approached the escalators that led down to the ballroom and asked the externally contracted security representatives if I could go down. They abruptly responded, “You can’t go down without a ticket.” I explained my situation and that I just wanted my keys from my husband in the foyer and that I wouldn’t need to enter in the ballroom. They refused to let me through. For the next half hour, they watched as I frantically called my husband but was unable to reach him.

Then something remarkable happened. I watched as they let countless other women through — all Caucasian — without even asking to see their tickets. I asked why they were allowing them to go freely when they had just told me that I needed a ticket. Their response? “Well, now we are checking tickets.” He rolled his eyes and let another woman through, this time actually checking her ticket. His smug tone, enveloped in condescension, taunted, “See? That’s what a ticket looks like.”

When I asked “Why did you lie to me, sir?” they threatened to have the Secret Service throw me out of the building — me, a 4’11” young woman who weighs 100 pounds soaking wet, who was all prettied up in elegant formal dress, who was simply trying to reach her husband. The only thing on me that could possibly inflict harm were my dainty silver stilettos, and they were too busy inflicting pain on my feet at the moment. My suspicion was confirmed when I saw the men ask a blonde woman for her ticket and she replied, “I lost it.” The snickering tough-guy responded, “I’d be happy to personally escort you down the escalators ma’am.”

Like a malignancy, it had crept in when I least expected it — this repugnant, infectious bigotry we have become so accustomed to. “White privilege” was on display, palpable to passersby who consoled me. I’ve come to expect this repulsive racism in many aspects of my life, but when I find it entrenched in these smaller encounters is when salt is sprinkled deep into the wounds. In these crystallizing moments it is clear that while I might see myself as just another all-American gal who has great affection for this country, others see me as something less than human, more now than ever before.

When I asked why the security representatives offered to personally escort white women without tickets downstairs while they watched me flounder, why they threatened to call the Secret Service on me, I was told, “We have to be extra careful with you all after the Boston bombings.”

I explained that I am a physician, that my husband is a noted journalist for a major American newspaper, and that our guest was an esteemed, Oscar-nominated director. They did not believe me. Never mind that the American flag flew proudly outside of our home for years, with my father taking it inside whenever it rained to protect it from damage. Never mind that I won “Most Patriotic” almost every July 4th growing up. Never mind that I have provided health care to some of America’s most underprivileged, even when they have refused to shake my hand because of my ethnicity.

I looked at him, struggling to bury my tears beneath whatever shred of dignity that remained. They finally saturated my lashes and flood onto my face. Shaking with rage, I said, “We are all human beings and I only ask that you give me the same respect you give others. All I am asking is to be treated with a dignity and humanity. What you did is wrong.” They stared straight ahead, arms crossed, and refused to even look at me. Up came the cruel, xenophobic, soundproof wall that I had seen in the eyes of so many after 9/11. Their eyes, flecked with disdain and hatred, looked through me.

The next affront came quickly thereafter. “You were here last year, weren’t you? You caused trouble here last year too. I know you,” they claimed, accusing me of being a party-crasher. Completely confused, I explained that this was my first time here and that I had no idea what he was referencing. Clearly, he had assumed all brown people look the same and had confused me for someone else.

I wonder what their reaction would have been to a well-dressed white woman trying to reach her husband. Would she have struggled for over an hour while they watched and offered to escort others in? Would they not have extended an offer to help, bended over backwards to offer assistance, just as they did with the woman who “lost her ticket”? Would the Boston bombings even be mentioned to a white woman?

Let’s stop this facade that we are a beacon of tolerance. I don’t need you to “tolerate” me. I don’t want you to merely put up with my presence. All I ask, all I have ever asked, is to be treated as a human being, that bigoted jingoism is not injected into every minute facet my life, that there remains at least the illusion of decency.

Despite being a native English speaker who was born in New Orleans and a physician who trained at a prestigious institution, all people see is the color of my skin. After this incident, I will no longer apologize, either for my faith or my complexion. It is not my job to convince you to distinguish me from the violent sociopaths that claim to be Muslims, whose terrorism I neither support, nor condone. It is your job. Just like when a disturbed young white man shoots up a movie theatre or a school, it is my job, as someone with a conscience, to distinguish them from others. It’s not my job to plead with you to shake my hand without cringing, nor am I going to applaud you when you treat me with common decency; it’s not an accomplishment. It’s simply the right thing to do. Honestly, it’s not that hard.

This year, Quvenzhané Wallis took the world by storm with her staggering performance inBeasts of the Southern Wild. At several award ceremonies, reporters refused to the learn the accurate pronunciation of her name, and one reporter allegedly told Wallis, “I’m gonna call you Annie,” because her name was too difficult to pronounce. If reporters can learn to pronounce Gerard Depardieu and Monique Lhuillier then surely they can take the time to learn how to pronounce Quvenzhané. It’s not hard; it’s just not deemed worthy of your energy because she is someone of color.

A school child recently threatened my 12-year-old niece claiming, “I’m going to kill you Miss Bin Laden.” Again, it is not my job to teach your children manners and social justice, to remove the disgusting threads of racism that you have woven into their hearts with your insecurities. Last week, a 39-year-old Muslim American cab driver who served in the Iraq war was attacked and had his jaw broken in a hate crime. The assailant, an executive from an aviation company, told the veteran “I will slice your fucking throat right now.” I suppose the “support the troops” rhetoric by the right only applies to white veterans.

It wasn’t enough that I have had to prove my “American-ness” at every step of my career, but now the next generation is suffering as well. It wasn’t enough that I was asked whether my father taught me how to make bombs, or that I was told that I was doomed to the seventh circle of hell during my medical school interviews. I was also asked whether I would wear a burqa or if my parents would arrange my marriage during interviews. It is outrageous that I have to actually prove to the world how horrified I am that an 8-year-old boy was brutally murdered by a terrorist bombing. Any normal human being feels this agonizing grief with the rest of the country. I do not have to prove to you that, I, too, find it morally reprehensible. Of course I do. I have a heart. I am human.

So, I no longer want a seat at your restaurant, where you serve me begrudgingly, where I am belittled for asking for food without pork, where I endure your dirty looks at my hijabi friend. I want my pride intact, I want this struggle of mine to be recognized, for you to look me in the eye and acknowledge that yes, this tumor called bigotry is indeed rivering through your veins, polluting your mind, and is so malignant that it compels you to squash my dignity.

It’s the little indignities that slowly devastate your soul. The ones where your guard is down, and you just expect to dress up, look pretty, and enjoy an evening as a newlywed, or at the Oscars, but instead end up humiliated and snubbed. The ubiquitous racist slap in the face is thinly veiled just beneath the carefully crafted façade. This filthy, highly infectious plague is transforming our nation into one of unwarranted suspicion and anguish inflicted on disenfranchised, voiceless people of color. And now, it is no longer my job to enlighten you. To quote what you so often tell ethnic communities, “It’s time for you to step up to the plate, take responsibility, and stop taking what I have earned,” my integrity, my dignity.

 

 

Seema Jilani

Physician reporting from Afghanistan

white out – from Gone agape.

Gone Agape.

white out.

http://goneagape.tumblr.com/post/55996194687/white-out

I haven’t had much to say about the trial of Trayvon Martin (yes he was the one on trial) because like many of you— this shit was emotionally destructive. What you may not know is me and Trayvon are from the same neighborhood. Literally. That I went to the elementary school and middle school that fed into Rachel Jeantel’s highschool of the same name. My brother went to Rachel’s high school, as did most of my friends growing up.
Had I not suffered from extreme anxiety that arose anytime I made a mistake, I would have gone to the same high school as Trayvon. The day I was to audition for their vocal program, I didn’t bring background music and after being chastised by the white woman organizing the auditions, I decided not to audition at all and lied to my mom about my rejection. I regret that.

So when I say this shit hits home, I mean it. It hit 197th Terrace in Miami Gardens, Florida. This hit home and it sucks. Because I know very well what comes out of North Dade and what died with Trayvon that night was a whole hell of a lot of potential and no conviction of George Zimmerman will allow us to see what Trayvon could have been.
But as much as this entire fiasco is about racism— it’s also about privilege. Privilege white people refuse to acknowledge and Black people can’t seem to communicate enough. No doubt that the privilege with roots in racism played a role in the trial… but, it’s not enough to say, things would be different if the races were reversed. People never want to deal in the what ifs… and no one seems to want to touch racism with a 10 foot pole. Though the acts are no doubt racist at the root, I rather be effective than right- so I need to acknowledge these things in a way people can digest.

White privilege is being able to live your life as a white man for all intents and purposes and become Hispanic when denying you are racist. That same privilege allows you to not know the difference between race and ethnicity. Privilege involves always getting the benefit of the doubt… because you are trusted.

No matter how ridiculous it might sound that you disobey an order by an emergency professional, and shoot someone to death for nothing really. Privilege is like that. Privilege is about the right to be an individual. That no matter how heinous crimes are that white people are accused of, no one looked at George Zimmerman and thought of Dahmer, or Bundy, or Gacy. No one diagnosed his anger issues, his insecurity, or overzealous nature as something indicative of a propensity to commit violence again. But when you’re Black, you are everyone else. Because, violent and mischievous Black teenagers exist, it was okay for Zimmerman to assume Trayvon was one. And because we don’t ever exist as individuals, then Trayvon becomes at fault for his own murder. Black children can’t make mistakes, white adults can.

Whenever there is an instance of one account versus another, the account of a White person is always more true. It’s the reason that I pull out my whitest voice possible when making any customer service transaction over the phone. When you’re white, you are you— when you’re Black you’re all of us, and all of us, are bad Black thugs. I don’t even like the premise that Trayvon could have gone to college and been a “good nigga.” Don’t show me a picture of another teenager with baggy pants and then with a graduation cap 10 years later… because, Trayvon wasn’t wronged because he could have been a college graduate and traded in his hoodie for a bowtie. Trayvon was wronged because he was here. We are wronged not just because we aren’t afforded individuality, we are wronged because someone believes they can determine the value, or lack thereof, of Black lives.

Privilege is when there is outrage about a white terrorist who makes the cover of Rolling Stone after killing white people in a horrific display of inhumanity. But awkward white boys with backpacks across the world will continue boarding planes, going hiking, being publicly intoxicated, and playing violent video games without so much as a nod in their direction. They will go to school without being tracked, and they will drive cars freely without being stopped. Privilege on privilege is when people are outraged he made the cover and not at the article that promises to tell us how a “popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam, and became a monster.”
No one is troubled by the suggestion that the Boston Marathon bomber was failed by his family and became a monster and Trayvon was supported by his family and born one. Privilege is telling Black people these things are not related in a world where everything is. Privilege is failing to understand the very real physical and psychological damage privilege and racial microaggressions cause. Since I have gotten a new car, I’ve been pulled over three times- more than in almost 10 years of driving. Privilege is when seeing the police is a sign of relief and not one of anxiety.

This discussion about racism will never be valuable if the subject matter and those discussing it are always the oppressed. It will never be valuable if we keep saying people who do racist shit are not racist because they are nice people. The cop who stopped me for “rolling through a stop sign” was a fucking racist. Why? Because he wanted to know where I was going, how long I owned my car, and asked to see my license and registration even though by his own admission, “everyone who comes to that sign always does the same thing.” And maybe he volunteers at his church or takes care of his sick mother and I’m supposed to believe he can’t be racist because he’s a nice person. Well, like people we love are addicts, or thieves or liars— we can love racists.  And while we pity him, it is me who has PTSD from being followed in the dark, humiliated, scared, and even as a civil rights attorney well aware that I was stopped for DWB in a nice car, I had to be non threatening and apologetic for a stop that I know was complete bullshit because I wanted to make it out alive.

And anyone whose privilege won’t allow them to recognize that fact, I suggest they ask Trayvon Martin how the decision to defend or be offended is so often a life or death one. I have no doubt Zimmerman spent his life relishing in microaggressions that were dismissed as non racist, and of people being too sensitive or obsessed with being politically correct. But the reality is, many microaggressions make for one big ass MACROaggression and a whole helluva lot of Trayvons. The running theme is, they are not like us, they are dangerous and they are all the same. So long as I have a Black friend, I can’t possibly have ever caused harm to another Black person. And if engaged in a fist fight with a black person, I must use a gun because the pure brute strength of the Black African makes any object in the universe a weapon. We can be armed with fresh air so it’s best to suffocate us all if given the chance.

And suffocate us they do, bit by bit. While we march for Trayvon and pack theaters to watch Fruitvale, I encourage everyone to call out these microaggressions and deconstruct the myth of Black inhumanity. We are human when we are born, not because we go to college, or because we wear bow ties. We are worthy because we are here.

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About

gone agape is a blog that is centered around understanding the world with love as a compass. to go agape is to BE love. agape (uh-gop-ay) is the most divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional and thoughtful love.

to go apape is also to be open, and to find freedom in being honest about who you are. we may not always like what we find, but we must love it. and sometimes that means repairing the most broken parts of us. every post is a chance to challenge everything we have been taught, and unlearn when necessary. you don’t always have to agree, but you do have to be open to the process.

Agape Always.

The “Unsophisticated” Mirror of Rachel Jeantel thefeministwire

The Feminist Wire

The “Unsophisticated” Mirror of Rachel Jeantel

July 22, 2013

By 

By Lauren G. Parker

The prosecution needed to represent Rachel Jeantel as much as they represented Trayvon Martin because her assumed unintelligence and subsequent worthlessness were inadvertently assigned to him. Aware of this, prosecution attorney Bernie de la Rionda attempted, but failed, to insist upon her credibility in his closing statements. Before queering a Dr. King quote by saying that she “should not be judged by the color of her personality but by the content of her testimony,” he told the jury that she was “a little unsophisticated” and “uneducated.”Rachel_Jeantel_rtr_img

By insulting her to gain credibility, he complied with the idea that she was insignificant and by default, so was Martin’s life. Such inherently assumed superiority over Jeantel from the prosecution’s closing statement, the defense’s humiliating tactics and venomous commentary from cyber voyeurs was deeply remnant of a passage from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in which Morrison stated:

 All of us—all who knew her—felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us; her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used—to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.

Afraid to embrace those realities, many dwelled on their critiques of Jeantel’s dialect. Here, too, there was a deep politic that neither the talented-tenth, code-switching middle class Black folks who claimed to be ashamed by her nor those who maintained the racist ideology that she was merely another ignorant, fat black woman, could bear to acknowledge. James Baldwin’s 1979 essay, “If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me, What is?” best presented this truth where he states,

…language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identify: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.

He further explains,

Language, also, far more dubiously, is meant to define the other–and, in this case, the other is refusing to be defined by a language that has never been able to recognize [them]. People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances, or in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate.

Just as many have never considered that Trayvon Martin, who we know for a fact was followed by George Zimmerman, was standing his own ground, many who shared Juror B-37’s condescending viewpoint and “felt bad” for Rachel who was “using phrases [they] never heard before” have not considered themselves ignorant for not understanding her. Those same individuals may never challenge the absurdity of having deemed themselves the standard of comparison; nor will they realize that they misnamed her “uneducated” in order to hide from the paralyzing fear of a heavy-set, dark skinned teenager unwilling to bow to their assumed superiority.

Rachel Jeantel cannot be reduced to just a witness in a popular trial because what she endured in court and from the media were private acts made public: the mocking and silencing of black women and girl’s stories as well as the devaluing of their traumas. In response to critics, Jeantel shared with Piers Morgan that  “[My critics] should be appreciating [me]. You should learn from this situation. If it happened to you or your family, would you step up or would you just say ‘oh, it ain’t my business’?” To my mind, she has remained brilliant and strong in spite of the overwhelming grief of losing a friend and then being publicly labeled as ignorant–as a national embarrassment–because she, like James Baldwin, knows that  “it is [never] the black child’s language that is in question, it is not [their] language that is despised: It is [their] experience.”

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L_G_Parker-The_'Unsophisticated'_Mirror_of_Rachel_Jeantel-lgpLauren G. Parker is an undergraduate, intended Creative Writing major at George Mason University. Currently, she is co-coaching Richmond, Virginia’s internationally competing youth slam poetry team.

 

An Open Letter to Juror B-37 in the Zimmerman Trial

An Open Letter to Juror B-37 in the Zimmerman Trial
July 16, 2013

Court Cases, Criminal Justice, News Media, Reality TV, Social Media

Dear Juror B-37,

I saw your interview with Anderson Cooper on AC360 and I want to thank you for the time you took away from your family to serve in the public process as a juror.

JurorB37

That is the nicest thing I can say to you because I find you to be a disgusting human being.

It’s obvious that you never once considered Trayvon’s point of view and did not then, or now, see him as a full human being, worthy of the same rights to which all Americans are entitled and the Human Rights declared by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

Did you even bother to listen to the case?

You took George Zimmerman’s story to be truthful and, yet, you say he “went too far” and that you were certain he had some “exaggerations” and “inconsistencies.” Gee, what do you think he could have exaggerated about? Was it the head bashing, perhaps? The fear for his life? The first punch? Everything happening at the T?

You claim that you didn’t understand the law (and, btw, “went too far” = Manslaughter, bare minimum) but you had plenty of time to ask for clarification; and the only question presented to the judge about the law was Manslaughter. According to you, you were confused about everything. Why not more questions?

You claim that Rachel Jeantel wasn’t so credible to you and, yet, you were certain that Trayvon said “creepy ass cracka.” So, which is it, Disgusting Juror? You can believe a phrase that has absolutely zero proof of existence but you can’t believe that Trayvon was NOT the initial aggressor and did NOT throw “the first punch,” considering Rachel told you she heard the verbal confrontation and the “bump” on Trayvon?!!

And, yet, you feel “sorry” for Rachel Jeantel because she was so “uneducated” and because of her speech? Well, let me tell you something: Rachel Jeantel does not need nor want your “sympathy.” What she wanted was justice for her friend and you have ensured that the justice George Zimmerman deserves has now been delayed. Rachel Jeantel is smarter than you, probably speaks more languages than you, is more street-smart than you; and as soon as she gets her surgery, she will be far more eloquent than you think you are, Disgusting Juror!

You think it would be okay for George Zimmerman to be your Neighborhood Watchman NOW and that he has “learned his lesson?” Well, good. I hope you have a Neighborhood Watchman EXACTLY like George Zimmerman. Then, you can see what your own hands have wrought.

HLNTV.com
HLNTV.com
I can’t wait for you to learn that the audio experts EXCLUDED George Zimmerman from being the one screaming. It wasn’t him, you twit. But just like the Sanford Police Department, you gave him the Presumption of Innocence he doesn’t deserve. I would love to see your face when you learn that “Georgie” threw a woman across the room, called his ex-fiance a “hoe,” had a restraining order put on him from his ex-fiance’ and the “meek” man who could not fight assaulted an undercover police officer even AFTER he identified himself, to which “Georgie” replied, “I don’t care WHO you are!” and assaulted him.

You believed the wrong person. You set free the wrong person. YOU are a wrong person.

I don’t care about the tears you had after you gave the verdict to the bailiff. You cried because you knew, deep down inside, you appealed to white supremacy / racism more than anything else. Certainly, there was some doubt in this case but all REASONABLE doubt is removed once you realize that George Zimmerman is a lying piece of murderous scum trash and YOU set him free before even deliberating with the other jurors and even after.

You are a disgusting human being. And I find your desire to write a book after you set a child murderer free to be disgusting and that’s why I repeat the insult. You are a racist and could never think about what Trayvon Martin might have been thinking or feeling. Perhaps you need to read my Closing Argument.

You talked about how sorry you felt for George Zimmerman’s life, through your tears. Anderson Cooper had to collect himself when he realized you were only crying for “Georgie” and asked, “Do you feel sorry for Trayvon?,” to which you replied, “I feel sorry for both.”

See how you couldn’t even condescend to feel for Trayvon, alone, not even for a moment?

That’s how we know you’re a disgusting human being.

I’m glad you said you will never serve on another jury. Please don’t. There is enough injustice in this world.

Sincerely,

Disgusted by You

Justice for Trayvon

Update: Due to the excellent diligence of @MoreAndAgain on Twitter, Disgusting Being Juror B-37 was dropped by her literary agent. After the public statement was issued, reportedly Juror B-37 decided she wasn’t going to write a book anymore and provided the following statement:

JurorB37 Book Deal

Shorter Juror B-37: I had NO IDEA how many people would hate me following my self-serving interview with Anderson, especially since I was just testing out the waters to see who’d buy my book. I had NO IDEA @MoreAndAgain would ensure my ass was handed to me and my Literary Agent would drop me like, well, like George Zimmerman dropped Trayvon to the ground without a care in the world for his life or humanity, with his depraved mind.

We already know you enjoy reveling in lies, Juror B-37, and we also now know that your attorney husband is friends with Mark O’Mara. I wondered why that other disgusting being, Frank Taaffe, was so confident about the verdict and knew certain votes and now I’m clear, you were the source.

We’re not surprised.

Dr. Kimberly Ellis ( Dr. Goddess)

Former Producer, OUR COMMON GROUNG

Scholar. Artist. Activist. Trial Watcher and Analyst. View all posts by SocialCourtTV →

How the media tried to assassinate Chris Dorner Claims of ‘mental illness’ are in the mind of the beholder l Thandisizwe Chimurenga

How the media tried to assassinate Chris Dorner Claims of ‘mental illness’ are in the mind of the beholder

Published on Thursday, 21 February 2013 15:55

 Thandisizwe Chimurenga

LAWatts Time  Contributing Writer

 

 

Christopher Jordan Dorner is dead but his words and actions will continue to impact the Los Angeles area and beyond for quite some time. The former U.S. Navy lieutenant and Los Angeles police officer who is alleged to have shot and killed four people earlier this month was the subject of the largest manhunt in Southern California history.  Authorities say that manhunt ended on Feb. 12 with Dorner, surrounded by law enforcement in a cabin in the Big Bear area of San Bernadino, committing suicide as highly flammable tear gas canisters ignited the cabin and burned it to the ground.

Dorner’s ‘manifesto’, in which he declared war on the Los Angeles Police Department and his subsequent actions were horrifying to many.  In an effort to understand the reason behind his rage and actions, many mainstream media outlets posited that Dorner must have suffered from some sort of mental illness.

Appearing on “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Feb. 7 Dr. Xavier Amador, a regular commentator for CNN, said there was “absolutely no basis in reality for [Dorner’s] complaints that he was mistreated, that there was any kind of police corruption,” that Dorner had “clear signs of mental illness,” and that his ‘manifesto’ was “delusional.”

Amador’s analysis was based on a review of Dorner’s LAPD case file, he said.

According to Neon Tommy the online news site of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared that “Whatever problem [Dorner] has is mental,” while speaking at a press conference on proposed gun safety legislation. Villaraigosa’s comments were part of a Feb. 7 news article entitled “Christopher Dorner’s Navy Service Record And Mental Health Scrutinized.”

On Feb. 9, The Associated Press ran a news brief on Dorner’s unsuccessful attempt to obtain a restraining order in 2006 against his then-girlfriend Ariana Williams.  The story quotes court documents filed in the case that called Dorner “severely emotionally and mentally disturbed.”  The court documents also link Williams to a post about Dorner on a website that was signed anonymously, calling Dorner “twisted” and “super paranoid.”

Also on Feb. 9, The Christian Science Monitor, in “Christopher Dorner: Experts look for clues to alleged cop killer’s mental state,” quotes a retired FBI profiler who said Dorner’s actions were “completely over the top.” Dorner, who claimed in his manifesto that he simply wanted to “clear his name,” had a “personality disorder” according to Mary Ellen O’Toole.

While it can be considered normal to search for answers in a case such as this, attempting to make a mental health diagnosis of Christopher Dorner without ever having physically examined him is not.

“It is difficult to make a diagnostic conclusion given how little any of us know about Dorner’s mental health history, having no audio transcripts to review, no testing and assessment instruments to analyze, and no clinical interview data, said Thomas Parham, PhD.  Parham is past president of the national Association of Black Psychologists and a co-author of “Psychology of Blacks: Centering Our Perspectives in the African Consciousness.”

“All we have is a so-called “manifesto” (that I have not read) that is selectively presented in the media.  So, for the press and media to be making a statement in absence of that kind of information is just interesting, if not useless chatter,” he said.

Clive D. Kennedy, a clinical forensic psychologist and president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists, echoes Parham’s comments on evaluating Dorner’s mental state.  “I believe no professional has indicated he or she is aware of Mr. Dorner’s mental health status and therefore, we are unlikely to ever know, including those in the media who have been so forthcoming of his psychiatric condition,” he said.

Dorner claimed in his manifesto clearly and explicitly that not only was he a victim of racism but that his attempts to “blow the whistle” on the racism of the LAPD against him and other officers are why he believes he was fired.  According to Dorner retaliation against “snitching” on other police officers was one of several corrupt practices within the, department.  Despite this, much of the media coverage of Dorner’s mental state has conveniently left this fact out.

Are Charges of Racism Enough to Push One Over The Edge?

In her Feb. 9 Los Angeles Times op-ed, civil rights attorney Connie Rice recalls a conversation she had with former Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Jesse Brewer. Describing him as “wise and classy,” Rice states that Brewer, the first African American president of the Los Angeles Police Commission that oversees the LAPD, “came to my law office in 1990. He described to me his own ordeals on the force, in which white officers illegally blocked his entrance to the Police Academy, tried to plant false evidence on him, blocked all of his promotions and set him up for ambush in the field. He also described how viciously the department retaliated against him and other officers who tried to stand up for fellow officers or civilians who suffered abuse from cops. The LAPD never did allow whistle-blowers of any kind to survive, no matter how righteous they were,” wrote Rice.

Chillingly, Rice goes on to write that Brewer told her that Black LAPD officers had to resort to accepting abuse from white police officers and  “outsmarting” them because, “If you let them get to you, you’ll become homicidal.”

In her 1995 work “Killing Rage, Ending Racism,” noted political and cultural critic bell hooks wrote: “the conditions of racism can ‘drive one mad.’

Referring to an outbreak of violence in New York City in which a Black man opened fire randomly on a subway train, hooks states that “ … most Black folks can recognize that it is ethically and morally wrong to kill folks even as we can also sympathize with mental illness that is either engendered or exacerbated by life in [the United States].”

Psychologist Thomas Parham echoed that sentiment.  “We must extend our prayers for those who lost their lives in this rampage (both victims and perpetrator) and for the families who are left to grieve. There is never a justification for the taking of innocent lives, no matter what the level of unfairness one believes has impacted their own life.  There is nothing more sacred in the African tradition than life, so to be so callous in the taking of innocent lives would seem to be the most fundamental violation of an African centered worldview.”

Parham continued, “Clearly, the actions Dorner engaged in are very “out of the ordinary,” and beyond the realm of most standards of normalcy and decency that society embraces. Yet, like all of us, he is a product of a social system that makes an implicit contract with its citizens that says if you work hard and play by the rules, including doing the right thing on your job, then success should be the reward for one’s hard work, dedication, and commitment … I suspect that if he embraced this implicit social contract with the rigidity of a very concrete thinker, and then believes that his life was ruined by some unfair and discriminatory treatment when he called himself trying to do the right thing and report abuse by a fellow officer, then the violation and betrayal he feels might evoke that type of anger, rage, and desire for retribution that we all witnessed…”

Paul Harris, a San Francisco-based attorney and author, says that “ … even in cases where the perpetrator of the crime is mentally ill, one must look at the concrete experiences of racism (and other environmental hardships) to understand the resulting behavior.”  Harris is the author of “Black Rage Confronts the Law,” a 1971 book based on a case in which Harris was successful in defending a young Black man accused of bank robbery.  “Too many people cry racism in explaining these crimes without combining the underlying mental problems, with the specific life experience with racism the person has suffered,” said Harris.

Joy DeGruy, author of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” uttered similar  comments as Harris.  “I would think that any serious response would include consideration of the obvious and blatant differential treatment of African Americans by a dysfunctional justice system and the structural inequalities inherent in that system.”  DeGruy holds degrees in social work and clinical psychology and is an assistant professor at Portland State University.

More than 1,000 sightings of Christopher Dorner were reported to police during the manhunt to apprehend him.  The overwhelming majority of those tips were based on faulty identifications of Black men whose appearance was similar to Dorner.  What we do not know for sure is how many of those tips were from individuals that were simply Good Samaritans interested in assisting law enforcement, and how many were from individuals who were genuinely frightened that Dorner might attack them.

As we continue to ponder Dorner’s mental state we might also take into account the words of bell hooks:  “White supremacy is frightening.  It promotes mental illness and various dysfunctional behaviors on the part of whites and non-whites.  It is the real and present danger – not black rage.”

Read the LAWT Here

 

The Mundanity of White Privilege l The Pickaninny Papers

The Mundanity of White Privilege

MONDAY, JANUARY 14, 2013 AT 10:39AM

By Lydia Holt

As a black woman living in the US, I find that it is often easier to get through my day if I ignore the everyday incidences of misogyny and racism that abound in our society. If I didn’t, I fear I would lose my mind. I’m not talking street harassment or being called “nigger.” No, nothing as overt as that. I’m talking about the small things that could be easily explained away as a misunderstanding having nothing to do with race or gender. They are subtle and unconscious behaviors.

The other day, I apparently left my blinders at home, and two incidents stuck out in my mind as perfect examples of white privilege in action. Perhaps it is a result of following so many academics and cultural critics on Facebook and Twitter.

My sister and niece were visiting Brooklyn from the wilds of central New Jersey, and we were going out to eat but first made a stop at a bookstore. There were six of us altogether including my husband and two kids. As we were leaving the store, my husband held open one of the two doors for us. My sister, niece and oldest son went through the door while I lagged behind slightly, herding my three-year-old through the doorway. Another man was also leaving the store and began opening the other door. Meanwhile, a woman was trying to get into the store. She was clearly in a hurry as she tried to push past me and my child and ended up being hit by the other door in the process. The man apologized, and she made some sort of verbal acknowledgement of his apology before continuing to squeeze by us without a look or word of excuse for her own rude behavior.

Now, usually, I would say she was just being rude and impatient and that would be true, but only partially. My husband was holding open the door, so that was clearly the path of least resistance so I can understand her desire to use that door. But, here is the thing, had I been a white woman, would she have been so quick to bum rush us to get at those books? If my husband were black, would she have more easily made the connection that he was holding the door open for me and waited those few seconds it would take for us to clear the threshold? I’m not privy to her inner thoughts, so I will never know for sure, but that is how racism works. It’s not all lynchings and Jim Crow. It’s the entitlement. Her need to go where she wanted to go trumped all else. She made the unconscious assumption that I would move out the way for her and the door was being held open for her benefit.

After dinner, we went to another restaurant for dessert. The kids bounded down the sidewalk ahead of us singing “Gangnam Style.” My sister and I walked a little behind while my husband took over herding responsibilities guiding them into the restaurant flight attendant style, one hand pointing at the open door, the other gently waving them inside. A couple that had been walking near us and were heading to the same place waited and smiled as the kids walked into the restaurant. My sister and I were a few steps behind and had to cut in front of the couple as they attempted to follow behind my husband. Of course there was no way for them to know that we were all together, but again, if we had been two white women, would they have given us the benefit of doubt and waited for us to either pass by or go inside? I don’t know. But given that my husband is white, he was with three obviously non-white children, and being trailed by two black women…. Perhaps I am expecting too much of their observational skills and over-thinking the situation, but that is precisely how all -isms and systems of oppression work, isn’t it? They, ever so subtly, put you in your place over and over again until you begin to do it to yourself. Until you begin to make excuses for the behavior.

I am sure that the woman and the couple are lovely people and would be the first to say they aren’t racist, and I am sure they even know some black people and may even call them friends (that old chestnut). But I can guarantee you that they are not at home blogging about what happened because for them, nothing happened. There were no incidences. They go about their days without ever thinking about their race and how they are being treated as a result of their race. White privilege offers you the luxury of always assuming the door is opened for you and not thinking twice about it.

 

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