By Kay WhitlockHere’s a thought I keep coming back to during this tradition month of Pride celebrations (and protests by some LGBTQ folks against the growing corporate influence and welcoming of strong police presence in Pride celebrations.) It’s not my thought alone. Any number of people—activists, organizers, scholars—have, over many years, voiced something similar. Let’s center criminalized transgender, gender nonconforming, and queer folks in the moral, cultural, and political imaginations and agendas of movements for LGBTQ liberation. Especially criminalized queer communities of color.
By Christian ColemanReveling in science fiction/fantasy for an openness she saw lacking in other genres, Octavia E. Butler gave us gene-trading extraterrestrials, psionically powered mutants, a genetically engineered vampire, a reluctant time traveler forced to visit the brutal past of American slavery. There was no subject matter she wouldn’t tackle, no story she wouldn’t write during her three-decades-long career—except for one. The ghost story. She didn’t believe in ghosts. Raised as a born-again Baptist, Butler stopped believing in the afterlife and a celestial caretaker by age twelve. “Somehow you’re supposed to believe and have faith but not worry about having any evidence to support that belief and faith,” she said in a 1988 interview. “That just doesn’t work for me, and I never went back.”1 Coincidentally, at age twelve she began trying her hand at science fiction.
This month, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? turns fifty. King’s acute analysis of American race relations couldn’t be more prophetic. Written in 1967, in isolation in a rented house in Jamaica, King’s final book lays out his plans and dreams for America’s future: the need for better jobs; higher wages; decent housing; quality education; and above all, the end to global suffering. King’s dreams are very much our own today.
By Perpetua CharlesThis year marks the fortieth anniversary of the court decision in Loving v. Virginia that struck down anti-miscegenation laws across the United States. Thanks to this ruling, people across races could legally declare their love for each other through marriage. Sheryll Cashin’s new book, Loving: Interracial Relationships and the Threat to White Supremacy, offers a history of interracial relationships in the United States and looks at how present interracial relationships will shape the future of the country. As I read Loving, I was struck by a short section near the end of the book. Cashin writes that one doesn’t have to marry, date, or adopt a person of another race to experience transformational love or to acquire what she calls cultural dexterity—an enhanced capacity for intimate connections with people outside one’s own tribe. An intimate friendship works just as well. Cashin doesn’t use the word friend lightly, and neither do I.
By Nicholas DiSabatinoToday marks the hundredth anniversary of legendary literary icon Gwendolyn Brooks. I’m so proud to be working on the new biography of her from award-winning poet, playwright, and novelist, Angela Jackson, who intimately knew Brooks and her family and had unprecedented access to her papers. A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks is a welcome introduction to Brooks for both longtime fans and newbies like myself.
By Rashod OllisonWhen I realized I’d never jump in the sky and fly away like the mythical African slaves in that old folktale, which was also around the time I figured Michael Jackson would never come to the projects and take me away in a rocket limo, I begrudgingly accepted my sexuality. I was still a child, a precocious one, about eight or nine years old who lived inside his overactive and always vivid imagination. I didn’t know what “gay” really meant, but I gathered from the casual and mean-spirited homophobia at home and in the working-class neighborhoods we shuffled in and out of that being “that way” or a “faggot” was a sin and shame.
After twelve years of leading the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II has announced that he is stepping down as state chapter president. He’ll be joining activists and faith leaders across the nation to lead them in a new Poor People’s Campaign, envisioned to advocate economic justice for all across the racial spectrum.
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-WhitakerIndigenous nations have for many decades negotiated with and litigated against the United States for its unfair and many times illegal dealings with them, dealings that have resulted in the massive loss of land and resources. Beginning with the Indian Claims Commission in the 1940s, the United States has paid out billions of dollars in settlements in acknowledgment of its depredations, with Native nations sometimes extinguishing their right to aboriginal title or status as federally recognized tribes in exchange.
By Rashod OllisonIt didn’t surprise me to see him in the news. Back home in central Arkansas where I grew up in the 1980s and ’90s, Judge Wendell Griffen has long been a respected presence in the local press. But this week as he faces impeachment for a Good Friday protest against the death penalty, in which he lay strapped to a gurney in front of the Governor’s mansion, Griffen’s story has made national headlines. He was featured in a segment on Democracy Now! that aired on Monday, May 8.
By Patricia Hill CollinsOn August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people gathered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. One line stands out: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Some would say that the outcome of the 2008 presidential election has been either the realization of King’s dream or evidence of its failure. We can speculate endlessly about how and why Barack Obama won and John McCain lost, but this may not be the best use of our time. For the United States and the globe, too much is at stake to concentrate too closely on winners and losers.
By Stacey PattonWhupping children is so deeply entrenched into black culture that folks often won’t have a rational conversation or be receptive to new information about the potential physical and psychological harms of hitting children. That’s because when we were children, being whupped was presented to us in the context of “love” and “protection.” As such, many folks’ opinions and feelings about whuppings are based on their repression or forgetting what it was like to be a child. They’ve either repressed or forgotten the betrayal, pain, bewilderment, fear, resentment, sadness, and anger they felt while being on the receiving end of an adult hitting their body. They’ve turned pain into a positive. So when they talk about whuppings, there appears to be a sharp disconnect between what they likely experienced as a child and their staunch adult defense of the harmful practice.
By Laura WinnickTeaching Octavia Butler’s Kindred is one of the most important projects I embark on with my students. I’ve taught it for the past two years, and have seen my students, previously bored by texts, evolve into voracious readers, horrified by the grim depictions of slavery and transfixed by the possibility of time travel. This year, we paired John Jennings and Damian Duffy’s newly published graphic novel with the dense fictional text, and students arrived every day begging to read the graphic novel, utterly obsessed with the artistic rendering. In this unit, our essential questions are extremely difficult. We examine: How do race and gender affect our identities? What are the lingering effects of slavery? How are people impacted by their ancestral histories?
By Ryan Lugalia-HollonWielding only hammers, law enforcement executives often treat the world as if it were made of nails. Within the Chicago Police Department, this limited worldview has led to fatal flaws in departmental strategy and culture. Some of these flaws were documented in a 164-page report by the United States Department of Justice, which drew on meetings with “over 340 Chicago Police Department members and 23 members of the Independent Police Review Authority.” The report covers a litany of civil rights violations by the Chicago Police Department, with a primary focus on its “pattern or practice of unconstitutional use of force.” It calls for deep reforms to support everything from officer wellness to community-focused policing which, not incidentally, are deeply linked.
By Lori L. TharpsBy now you’ve probably seen the video. The one of White American South Korean expert Robert Kelly being interrupted by his two children while he was in the middle of a live interview on the BBC. The video immediately went viral because it was just so funny seeing not one, but two kids photo bomb dad’s very important and very serious television appearance, followed by a harried woman literally swooping in to save the day by hauling the kids out of the room and slamming the door behind her. Oh, it was funny indeed. And Kelly’s four-year-old daughter, whom we now know is named Marion, became an instant Internet star.
A Q&A with Stacey PattonPeople think that hitting a child is a form of teaching. We think it will protect them. And people grow up to invert the violence they experience as children as something that was good, particularly in African-American culture. As a people, we attribute our success to having had our bodies processed through violence and quite frankly what it does is confirm a long-standing racist narrative about Black bodies. The only way to control us, the only way to make us “good,” law-abiding, moral people is with a good whupping. It seems that we unconsciously agree with that narrative.
By Gayatri PatnaikOne of my sharpest memories as a girl was when an immigration officer came to our house in rural Finzel, Maryland when I was about nine years old. He showed up at our house unannounced and I still remember the stunned look on my mother’s face when she answered the door. I didn’t realize until much later how high the stakes were or how very close we had come to being deported. While I can’t share specifics, I can say that one of the things the officer asked for was the phone number of people my mother knew who could attest to her character. And I remember sitting there in our kitchen hearing the one-sided conversation as he called friends or acquaintances or colleagues of my mother’s, one after another. When he left, I walked with him to the door and he shook my mother’s hand and told her she was a remarkable woman and that if she didn’t hear from him in the next six months, she wouldn’t have to worry about her citizenship status further.
By Margaret ReganOn a beastly hot June day, Jesús Arturo Madrid Rosas stood near the DeConcini Port of Entry, keeping a close eye on the street that transformed itself from Grand Avenue, Nogales, Arizona, into Avenida Adolfo López Mateos, Nogales, Sonora. The United States and Mexico jostled up against each other at the crowded crossing, and armed guards from the two nations—prowled just steps away from each other. Jesús was on the lookout for deportados. He was an officer for Mexico’s federal Repatriación Humana agency, and it was his job to welcome his deported compatriots back to their native land.
By Kay WhitlockThe forty-fifth President of the United States and his administration require danger and enemies to exist. They could not have come to power and cannot remain in power without continuing to mobilize against them. Especially racialized enemies: Muslims here and abroad, immigrants and refugees, “hardened criminals,” impoverished residents and gang members in “crime-infested” cities, cop-killers, fraudulent voters, Black Lives Matter, “failing public schools,” terrorist demonstrators and protestors, and cherry-picked “other countries” said to foster terrorism, breach national security, or steal American jobs and prosperity. All made to bear the weight of some illusory white nationalist “greatness,” tragically crumbling under the lethal onslaught of an increasingly multiracial, multicultural society.
By Lori L. TharpsBlack history is American history. It’s not separate. It’s not different. We were there for all of the good, bad, and ugly that made this country what it is today. From the Revolutionary War, to the Civil War, to putting a man on the moon, we were always there, and often in the front row for all of the action. We physically built this country, but we were also actively engaged in the planning, implementing, and designing of the structures that created the foundations of our society. We made art and music, designed clothing and cars that today are considered 100 percent American. But still in 2017 we have to fight to prove to our fellow citizens that not only have we contributed greatly, but that we simply matter.
A Q&A with Caroline LightOrdinarily, the duty to retreat obligated you to first try to avoid a violent confrontation before meeting force with force, unless you were threatened in your home. Starting in Florida in 2005, Stand Your Ground laws have granted some people an exemption from criminal prosecution when they claim to have killed another person in self-defense, as long as their fear of the deceased can be seen as “reasonable” in court. In some jurisdictions, SYG laws make it very difficult for police to arrest someone in the wake of a deadly encounter, because they must first establish evidence that the killing was not in reasonable self-defense.