One more Black man shot down – found poem 07/06/2016

It should be noted that Louisiana is an open carry state, just like Ohio where Rice and Crawford were killed. Possession of a firearm without a permit is permissible under state law, by anyone who is at least 17 years of age legally able to possess a firearm under state and federal law.

It should be noted that noted that noted that

It should be noted that
                                          that unless you are less
                                          than white
Louisiana is an open
                                          that is, unless, unless
                                          you are less, Tamir, and you, John
Louisiana is an open state
permission permissible
by anyone
                                          that is unless, unless
                                          you are less
                                          than white
Louisiana, just like Ohio,
like Ohio, just
                                          unless you are less, unless
                                          you are Black
Louisiana, just like Ohio,
you are legally able
                                          that is unless you are less
to possess
                                          you are Black
                                          it should be noted


NaPoWriMo 14/30 Henrietta Lacks grew in a culture

Henrietta Lacks grew in a culture
Tuskegee Tuskegee the Negro Insane
Henrietta Lacks grew in a culture
Tuskegee Tuskegee the Negro Insane

They momma’s cells by the billions and millions
grew the cure for 47 diseases and
counting the billions and millions of
patents and trademarks and Endowed Chairs
They momma’s cells’ offspring grew flew all round the
world they momma’s children grew locked
in closets and basements and battered and thin in a part of
East Baltimore too Black to be on the map

Poke a little prick a little steal a little
Oh! Poke a little prick a little steal and
sell a little, it ain’t profit its
scientific progress it ain’t profit
least not for you

Grow out of control, them Negro
woman’s cells, out of control contaminating
them Negro woman’s cells
anything they come near
cost us millions of dollars millions lost
cost us millions of dollars those
contaminating cells cost us
but then they made us
billions more

Henrietta Lacks grew in a culture
Tuskegee Tuskegee the Negro Insane
Henrietta Lacks grew in a culture
Tuskegee Tuskegee the Negro Insane

Science might need consent to sell a part of a person
but them Negro woman’s cells ain’t human at all
though after the war she became more than 3/5
of a human no Negro was person enough to be more
than research without messy morals

Henrietta Lacks grew in a culture
Tuskegee Tuskegee the Negro Insane
Henrietta Lacks grew in a culture
Tuskegee Tuskegee, the Hospital for
the Negro Insane where they drained Elsie’s
brain to get their picture crisp
and clear.

From here, Henrietta, from here
no picture is clear not the one with your hand
on your hip, not the notes on your death determined by what
the white drs wanted to see, nothing is clear from here

Poke a little prick a little steal a little
Oh! Poke a little prick a little steal and
sell a little, it ain’t profit its
scientific progress it ain’t profit
least not for you

Henrietta Lacks grew in a culture
Henrietta Lacks goes on growing
in a culture and it’s thick and it’s fetid
and tastes goddam awful and all
of us swallow it, swallow it whole.

Snorkeling, Racism, and the Mahotella Queens

In my Facebook feed this morning I found this great piece from singer/songwriter/rocker/Blues goddess Nedra Johnson about the first time she went snorkeling and about well-meaning white folks who don’t really get racism. Her entire post is below, here’s a taste:

It would be nice though if well meaning, yet racist, people started being willing to put their face down into the water and look at both the beauty they are missing and the effect that them not even realizing we exist is having on us.

I love snorkeling, won’t come out of the water until I’m blue and shivering, yet the image that came to mind as I read her words wasn’t fish, but a concert by The Mahotella Queens I experienced in Philadelphia in the 1990s.

Why that show, that clear mental image of the women dancing and singing tirelessly as members of the audience who were African danced and sang along?

Because I grew up in a viciously, openly racist culture in an all white town (except my mom wasn’t white – long story for another time). Because I worked so hard to find all that ugly in myself and unlearn it — workshops, classes, conferences, hard conversations, reading reading reading reading books by women “of color” (such an odd term for a group that represents the overwhelming percentage of humanity).

Because I was learning to get it. Then I went to see the Mahotella Queens. Holy crap. They got together the year after I was born and I was exhausted just watching them perform. As a woman with a big butt I was CHANGED that night — the way they used the motion of their butts to highlight the rhythm of the dancing, the way their skirts were designed to focus all the shaking going on. Why had I never seen this before?

And at that moment I knew why, and some of the ugly boiled up, a voice in the slightly-southern accent of my hometown, saying horrible things around the concept jungle bunny. I heard that voice, and I watched these women, and I just started crying. All the beauty that had been kept from me, all the beauty and power the holders of that voice would never ever see because they refused to see. All that beauty I was starving for, that I vowed to do even more work to get to witness again and again.

And the thing is, as Nedra says below, most folks “of color” don’t even demand that I prove myself to have been utterly wiped clean of racist white privilege crap, only that I’ve learned to keep the worst of it at bay. Same as the fish didn’t demand that Nedra have a track record of, say, eating only sustainably harvested sea food — only that she stop stepping up them, shut up, and look down and praise the wonder.

The first time I went snorkeling I was kind of eh about the idea. I mean I’d been to the beach hundreds of times in my life. Like ok… now I am going in with a mask… big deal…

Now mind you, most of my beach experience was Santa Monica and Venice area of CA. That’s where I grew up for a good many years. This snorkeling adventure was in New Caledonia which is surrounded by the world’s largest lagoon. So you could walk out quite a ways and not be in all that deep.

There I was trudging best I could with the mask half on and the flippers making it hard to step. But I got to a certain point and my friend Adam was like… “ok now you’re going to turn around and just fall back cause it gets deeper right there.”

And yeah… completely different all of a sudden. Big splash. But OK all is fine. I’m treading water. So he is like…. “OK so just put on the mask and the look down and float.” And so I have in mind that when I do this I will be seeing… mostly sand and a few sea plants and then occasionally… “Ooh! I think I saw a fish!” — kinds like shooting stars…. like ok it happens… but it’s an elusive experience….

I looked down into the water I had already been treading in and it was like the NYC of fish. I freaked out and had to turn up for air like “WTH?!?! How could I be here treading water and ALL THIS was happening without me knowing.” Like I wasn’t bumping into fish or anything and seriously… there were enough in a million different shapes, sizes and colors RIGHT THERE. And I didn’t know it.

Adam kind of laughed at my surprise. I prepared myself again with this new understanding and went back to floating and just looking at how amazing everything I was seeing was…

A friend of mine has a phobia about fish. And she wanted to push past it. So she committed to herself that she would try snorkeling. But it was huge and scary and she had to talk about it with LOTS of people to work herself up to finally doing it. And then when she came back to tell us about it, she said,

“Oh I get it. On the other side of uncontrollable fear lies unspeakable beauty.”

– – – – – – – – – – – –

I am reminded of all that because I was having a conversation with someone who I imagined myself trying to explain racism to using a light switch. Like… you are in a room that is dark. And you think you understand everything that is in the room, because you are accustommed to it as you have always known it. But when a light is turned on, things you may never have imagined are also there. Then I remembered my own experience with the fish.

The thing is… once I got in the water the fish knew about me. They swam about avoiding me. I’m sure it was easy enough for them to navigate. But I’m sayin’… It wasn’t until I put my face down into the water and looked that I even realized any of that was RIGHT THERE the whole time. Before I saw that, in my mind, all that was there was Adam and I.

I navigate racists, and I mean likely very well meaning racists, all the time. I avoid overt displays best I can, and I buffer myself against the barrage of micro-aggressions.

It would be nice though if well meaning, yet racist, people started being willing to put their face down into the water and look at both the beauty they are missing and effect that them not even realizing we exist is having on us.

Not sure what I mean is clear. I realize it’s a little woo woo and a bummer probably too to end a sweet fish story with talk about racism. I just know that I am exhausted by the racism that would exist if none of us ever talked about. And that is only amplified by the racism we are trying to talk about and having denied.

And speaking of great music and fat bottoms, here’s a clip of Nedra Johnson’s Fat Bottom Girls singing “Anyway You Need Her” at MichFest:

It’s not about Race – It’s about Racism

I had the great fortune to read a stunning essay by Tanya Steele about privilege in the wake of the Zimmerman trial. You can (and should!) read her original here: Black Folks, It’s Time to Stop Taking Care of White People.

Among many moments of her grief-informed brilliance is this:

We have to demand that white people speak up in discussions on racism, not race – racism. While we tell our thousandth story about being accosted, turn and ask a white person, “What are you learning from this? How will you change as a result of hearing this? How has the verdict impacted you and your life going forward? What will you do differently in your life, as a result of this verdict?” Something. The parade of black grief while white folks sit and stare has to cease. We did not create the conditions for our suffering.

This rang so true with me, because as a feminist I’ve been saying this for years about male / male-pattern violence—enough with talking about how rape hurts US. There was the time when women believed that saying “this hurts” would change something, and we spoke with clarity and passion and tremendous courage. And then the culture of violent porn exploded, and we realized that the perpetrators KNEW it hurt and GOT OFF ON IT. So the focus had to shift to making men responsible, making them understand what they were doing was not how the world is but rather abnormal, bad, evil, etc. This has now been happening slowly, with great social change campaigns like the “Don’t Be THAT Guy” ads in Canada, the truly radical My Strength is Not for Hurting campaign or the posters flooding Facebook with the items like “If a female friend is drunk, DON’T RAPE HER.” All of these make it clear that as a society we need to be telling potential rapists not to rape than telling potential victims how, maybe, they could not be hurt if they just behaved themselves.

So I, and plenty of other White folks, have been having a conversation about how our attitudes are the real problem, not someone’s skin tone or language or culture. It’s a hard conversation, both when you first start and as your knowledge gets deeper and deeper. But many of have experience with this. We know that race is an invented concept, not a biological one, and that it is about power and privilege, not about skin color or hair or facial features or language. We know the issue isn’t race, but racism, same as we know the issue is femininity but male violence.

So it’s time to just start saying this a million times a day in every situation to everyone we encounter: The issue wasn’t Trayvon Martin’s “race,” it is George Zimmerman’s racism — and the racism of the entire legal structure that gave him the gun once, and now has given it back.

We have looked the problem in face, and it, White Folks, looks like us, not like Trayvon Martin.