Month: July 2020

Black Moms Deserve to Be Heard

Kelly Glass, writing for The Lily on Portland’s “Wall of Moms” – and why this is old hat for Black moms.

You’ve heard about Portland’s “Wall of Moms,” a mostly white group of mothers forming a “wall” to protect protesters from armed federal agents. But have you heard of the “Army of Moms”?

In Englewood, a majority-black South Side neighborhood in the highly segregated city of Chicago, black mothers formed the group in 2015. Officially organized under the name Mothers Against Senseless Killings, the black mother-led group sat on the corners of the neighborhood’s most gun-violence plagued blocks to watch over children and serve as a barrier between their community and gun violence. Late last year, two of these black women were killed on the same blocks they set out to make safe for their community.

Glass, Kelly. (2020, July 25). The ‘Wall of Moms’ is not the story. Black moms have been in this fight for years. The Lily.

What’s telling is that the story that Ms. Glass pitched on the “Army of Moms” was rejected by several publications. The same publications now cover the Portland moms in exhaustive detail.

There’s nothing wrong with covering the Portland moms. Yet we have to ask why we as a nation continue to ignore the work Black moms – and Black women in general – have been putting in towards peace and justice.

Ms. Glass’ story was published on Zora, a Medium publication for women of color.

“We are not activists,” said Tamar Manasseh, founder of Mothers Against Senseless Killings, in a Facebook post.

In the days before Manasseh wrote these words, her friends, Andrea Stoudemire and Chantell Grant, were murdered on a Chicago corner.

Grant was a young mother, 26, who Manasseh says would bring her kids out every day to play. Grant and Stoudemire, 36, each had four children. “Two activists killed,” read the headlines from national news publications, framing them as women who set out to battle for a cause and their deaths as some sort of casualty of war. Even one of the city’s many nicknames, Chi-raq, coined by Chicago rapper King Louie, lends to the idea that the city is a war zone. In war, the only solutions are death and imprisonment. Black mothers, however, are bringing different solutions to Chicago through their presence.

Glass, Kelly. (2019, November 8). Black Mothers in Chicago Are the Village Against Gun Violence. Zora.

Systemic Racism By the Numbers

A fantastic interactive piece by Reuters outlining how systemic racism has widened the gap between Black and white Americans.

Inequality between white and Black Americans persists in almost every aspect of society and the economy. Such disadvantages have proven immune to decades of laws and policies meant to address them, leaving Black people with less education, less wealth, poorer health and shorter lifespans. Together, the disparities reflect what many have labeled system racism amid the mass protests that followed the killing of George Floyed, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police office in May.

There has been progress in recent decades. But white gaps – rooted in the legacy of slavery, segregation and discrimination – have endured or widened in the years since the civil rights victories of the 1960s. Born from the enslavement of Africans in British colonies since the early 1600s, American inequality plays out over the course of a lifetime.

The Race Gap: From Birth to Death. Black people face systemic disadvantages in American life more than 150 years after slavery was abolished.

The Strength of John Lewis

Michael A. Fletcher, writing at The Undefeated on the quiet strength of John Lewis.

I have always admired John Lewis. But early on, I have to admit, I held something back. His courage was unquestioned. His vision was unwavering. He shed blood for many of the rights that I, my family, and every African American, enjoys today.

Yet, I sometimes felt a pang of suspicion when I heard Lewis lauded as the conscience of the Congress. It was the same when I read about his annual sojourns with some of his congressional colleagues to his home state of Alabama, where in 1965 he and 600 other marchers were savagely assaulted by state troopers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge for daring to assert their rights as citizens.

The compliments, of course, were fitting and the tours were no doubt instructive. But it sometimes felt like the plaudits for the saintly Lewis, who died at 80 late Friday months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, flowed too easily. And when the praise was offered by people who gave comfort to those who once denied Lewis’ humanity or never supported his legislative priorities, it came off as insincere.

My apprehension was rooted in the mistaken notion that Lewis was not angry enough. Why did he not demand revenge for the unspeakable racism he fearlessly confronted? How could he accept an apology from former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a longtime segregationist who ordered the infamous Bloody Sunday attack? Or forgive the pathological Bull Connor, the former public safety commissioner in Birmingham? Why would he forge a relationship with former Klansman Elwin Wilson, who was part of a mob that in 1961 beat down Lewis and other Freedom Riders outside the whites-only waiting room at the Rock Hill, S.C. bus station?

Fletcher, Michael A. (2020, July 18). I Didn’t Understand John Lewis at First. The Undefeated.

The Police: An Origin Story

Jill Lepore, on the invention of the modern police.

It is also often said that modern American urban policing began in 1838, when the Massachusetts legislature authorized the hiring of police officers in Boston. This, too, ignores the role of slavery in the history of the police. In 1829, a Black abolitionist in Boston named David Walker published “An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World,” calling for violent rebellion: “One good black man can put to death six white men.” Walker was found dead within the year, and Boston thereafter had a series of mob attacks against abolitionists, including an attempt to lynch William Lloyd Garrison, the publisher of The Liberator, in 1835. Walker’s words terrified Southern slaveowners. The governor of North Carolina wrote to his state’s senators, “I beg you will lay this matter before the police of your town and invite their prompt attention to the necessity of arresting the circulation of the book.” By “police,” he meant slave patrols: in response to Walker’s “Appeal,” North Carolina formed a statewide “patrol committee.”

New York established a police department in 1844; New Orleans and Cincinnati followed in 1852, then, later in the eighteen-fifties, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Baltimore. Population growth, the widening inequality brought about by the Industrial Revolution, and the rise in such crimes as prostitution and burglary all contributed to the emergence of urban policing. So did immigration, especially from Ireland and Germany, and the hostility to immigration: a new party, the Know-Nothings, sought to prevent immigrants from voting, holding office, and becoming citizens. In 1854, Boston disbanded its ancient watch and formally established a police department; that year, Know-Nothings swept the city’s elections.

Lepore, Jill. (2020, July 0). The Invention of the Police. The New Yorker.

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Federal agents will continue to operate in cities despite local officials’ protests.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Sunday implored the “dozens, if not hundreds” of federal agents to leave the city, saying that unidentified Homeland Security officers were detaining residents in unmarked minivans.

“Their presence is neither wanted nor is it helpful and we’re asking them to leave,“ Wheeler (D) said. “In fact, we’re demanding that they leave.”

In response, Cuccinelli said, “We don’t have any plans to do that.”

Lang, Marissa J. & Sacchetti, Maria. (2020, July 19). Federal officials dismiss Portland leaders’ calls to leave city as clashes with protesters continue.

Rest in Peace, Rep. John Lewis

Representative John Lewis, a son of sharecroppers and an apostle of nonviolence who was bloodied at Selma and across the Jim Crow South in the historic struggle for racial equality and who then carried a mantle of moral authority into Congress, died on Friday. He was 80.

His death was confirmed by a senior Democratic official.

He announced on Dec. 29 that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancerand vowed to fight it with the same passion with which he had battled racial injustice. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said.

From The New York Times.

Country Music’s Approaching Reckoning

Spencer Kornhaber, writing for The Atlantic on the jolts Country music has been hit with by the pandemic and the protests.

The Chicks, meanwhile, are about to release Gaslighter, their first batch of songs since 2006. Back then, country radio’s boycott—cancellation?—of the Chicks for criticizing the Iraq War did not succeed in getting the band to quiet down, and they remain outspoken on Gaslighter. Produced by the pop artist Jack Antonoff, the album is a lively and thumping stylistic pastiche with biting lyrics about personal matters and politics. On the single “March, March,” the Chicks speak out for abortion rights, for gun control, and to raise questions about Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia. Its accompanying video is packed with images from the recent protests, culminating with a list of Black people killed by police. The song’s banjos and harmonies sound like country music, but the listener is left with a jolting, tense feeling far from the soothing haze offered by old Chicks songs like “Wide Open Spaces.” This is the sound of a band insisting that everything is not fine and normal—or maybe that normal was never all that fine.

Kornhaber, Spencer. (2020, July 15). Country Music Can No Longer Hide Its Problems. The Atlantic.

The New York Times on Capitalizing “Black”

Nancy Coleman, explaining why The New York Times is capitalizing “Black”.

Decades later, a monthlong internal discussion at The Times led the paper on Tuesday to make, for similar reasons, its latest style change on race — capitalizing Black when describing people and cultures of African origin.

“We believe this style best conveys elements of shared history and identity, and reflects our goal to be respectful of all the people and communities we cover,” said Dean Baquet, The Times’s executive editor, and Phil Corbett, associate managing editor for standards, in a memo to staff.

Coleman, Nancy. (2020, July 5). Why We’re Capitalizing Black. The New York Times.

Being Black in Publishing

A series of interviews in The New York Times about what it’s like to be Black in the publishing world. This bit from an interview with Tracy Sherrod, Editorial Director at Amistad, stands out.

It took seven years of interviews for an editorial assistant position. I used to make a joke that I was the oldest editorial assistant in the world. But it didn’t matter to me because I was very, very happy to be working with books. Once I discovered that this could be a career, there was nothing that was going to stop me. And I think that’s the spirit of all the Black editors in publishing: There’s nothing that’s going to stop them from doing this job.

I think publishers hold certain beliefs about what is universal, and oftentimes we don’t fit, our stories don’t fit into that equation. At Amistad, I’m trying to feed our community by shining a spotlight on Black stories, Black culture, Black history. Because oftentimes what’s in the headlines is not the full story of our humanity. What I think has changed or not changed in publishing is that there’s more diversity in terms of what is being published in the African-American marketplace, in terms of the variety of stories that are being told. But there’s only like seven of us Black editors who have some authority, real authority and power — and it’s not full authority and power.

Given my sales history, I think if I weren’t a Black woman, I would probably have a higher title. But titles don’t really matter to me, just the opportunity to publish books for my people is what matters most, so I don’t really focus on that. People who have racist ideas and racist actions do not bother me. I don’t let any of those issues influence what I do or the way I think or what I publish. That is a personal problem. I don’t let it become my problem. Racism is prevalent in all aspects of American society, and publishing is no different.

dé Léon, Concepción, Alter, Alexandra, Harris, Elizabeth A., Khatib, Joumana. (2020, July 1). ‘A Conflicted Cultural Force’: What It’s Like to Be Black in Publishing. The New York Times.

James Baldwin Was Right All Along

Raoul Peck, quoting James Baldwin in his piece for The Atlantic.

“There are days—this is one of them—when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it. How, precisely, are you going to reconcile yourself to your situation here and how you are going to communicate to the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel white majority that you are here. I’m terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the heart, which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human. And I base this on their conduct, not on what they say. And this means that they have become in themselves moral monsters.”

James Baldwin made this somber observation more than 50 years ago. I included these words in my film I Am Not Your Negro, which explored Baldwin’s searing assessment of American society through the lens of the assassination of three of his friends: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. It is a film that cruelly shortens time and space between acts of police brutality in Birmingham in 1963 and images of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown; recent images of protests over the death of George Floyd extend that tragic connection to the present-day.

It took me 10 years to make this film, but Baldwin put his whole life and body weight into these words, which, today more than ever, reverberate like a never-ending nightmare. With them, Baldwin dissected a story whose roots are deep. He exposed the underlying causes of violence in this country, and he would have continued to do so, year after year, one uprising after another, were he still alive today. And we still don’t get it.

Peck, Raoul. (2020, July 3). James Baldwin Was Right All Along. The Atlantic.

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