Overheard while black

Many of us have been deeply affected by the barrage of police shootings and brutality caught on tape between this week and last. After the past few months of this outlandish amount of (reported on) instances of unjustified (and still sometimes legal) uses of force by police, I am certain that many white people are just down right terrified of black/brown people.

For example, I overheard (and overheard is strong word, she was talking so damn loud I couldn’t even enjoy the mid-afternoon Metro lull) a conversation between a young woman and her date about that time she and her mother survived the “slums of Camden” (I assumed this was what appeared to her to be a predominately working-class neighborhood, probably with black people walking around, but who says “slums” though?!). They had just left a concert and her mom knew a “back way” to get home. Turns out it brought them through the “slums” and “OMG, guess what? A red light!” While stopped, she and her mother were accosted by a scary black man who asked in a none-threatening way “Oh, did the concert just let out?” (and I want you to know that she did her impression of his voice too, he must’ve been from the Jersey by way of Alabama). Turned out he was being “nice, but if it had been me and I was alone, I would’ve blown through that red light!” she finished, laughing.

A couple of things stood out to me, more might stand out to you: (1) You would’ve blown through the red light? Potentially putting folks in harms way (perhaps even killing someone) because you were scared? Scared of what? That sounds like that reserve cop, Robert Bates who shot and killed Eric Harris, a black man because he was scared, “accidentally”; (2) Congratulations, you survived being a black neighborhood. Now what? You gon’ go back? Try to find a cheap little apartment over there?; (3) What exactly was the point of that loud ass story?

Ultimately, there are a lot of white people in this country who are terrified of black people. Waves of white terror(ism) directed at black bodies has occurred many times in our short history as a country: after the Civil War during Reconstruction, after WWI when black soldiers returned home, the 1960s, it happened in the 80s under the Reagan Administration all through the early 2000s with the ‘War on Drugs’, and it’s happening now in our wonderfully “post-racial” America. These waves were often paired with insidious forms of cultural productions (film, cartoons, and other forms of media) which in many ways justified the mistreatment of black people.

Two pictures side by side. The one on the left is from Instagram and features two people, one seemingly female holding a watermelon and a bottle of red Kool-aid and another seemingly male holding a highlighter pink sign that reads: "Will U B my Nniga @ prom?" The one on the right is from Twitter user @rach_sweets and is a picture of two people; one seemingly black male holding a watermelon with the word "Prom?" written on it in black ink and a seemingly white woman holding what appears to be a Kentucky Fried Chicken bag.

Yes, those are people’s kids taking pictures of themselves doing racist things and posting them on social media.

Without some serious political, social, and cultural interventions, what we are experiencing right now in the country will only get worse. I can’t help but wonder if this new wave of violence is connected to the White House potentially being “white” again and the need to remind black people to “stay in our place.”

Whatever it is, if you are reading this and feel so inclined to spout your stories “overcoming” the threat of black people, please don’t. Journal about it and then share that journal with your therapist or something. Stories like that when spouted in public do nothing but contribute to the overall sense of concern (and ever present awareness) that white people may be, for some racist reason, afraid of me. And if that’s what you’re going for, then you’ll succeed; if you’d later say something like, “Oh, I didn’t mean to sound “racist” or anything,” then just don’t say the racist thing in the first place.

Three Reasons Why Black People Need to Copyright Our Stuff

The appropriation of Blackness, it’s piecemeal inclusion into the “mainstream,” often takes place vis-a-vie non-black bodies and this tends not benefit Black people directly or indirectly.

Here are three reasons why Black people need to gon’ head and take some copyrights out on our stuff…

Read more

Queering Kwanzaa: Or, Alternative Ways to Celebrate and Contemplate Your History and Heritage

If, like myself, you are “regular Black” (a phrase coined by a good friend of mine), then you might have considered celebrating Kwanzaa, but then you thought to yourself… Kwanzaa, ain’t that the fake Black people holiday Kyle from Living Single celebrated that one time?  Nah… that’s too much.  Well, what if it were an amazing way to bring in the new year? A celebration of yourself, your history… an opportunity to look back and forward to what you want in your new year. Read more

The Mystification of Poverty: Or the IMF and World Bank’s Poverty Monster

September 24th, 2011

Dear IMF and World Bank,

I saw this on the side of the World Bank yesterday and I had to take a picture of it and pose a few questions to you.  Why is it little girls’ responsibility to fight the “poverty monster”?  And you do realize that poverty isn’t a monster, right?  It’s real.

Why are you mystifying the processes of economic exploitation and colonialism–the things that produce poverty in the first place–through the production of this type of imagery?  And why do women have to do everything?  Are men going to take up some responsibilities now that women and girls are going to school?  Where’s that campaign?

Am I suggesting that little girls shouldn’t have access to education?  No, I’m not.  I’m just asking if you really think that more Westernized education does anything for them other than make them better resources from which to extract labor and capital in this global economy where the wealthiest 1% tell us where, how, and what to do to make them more money.

Poverty is not a hairy four eyed monster and no amount of reading can cause it to end if the people who help to perpetuate it, like yourselves, don’t stop making it out to be this thing that we can just end with through the “power of our minds.”

I’m not Jean Grey or Professor Charles Xavier, and neither are little girls in Sudan.

We can’t make people do things with the power of our minds.  As many people of color who are continually discriminated against in the workforce (and in comic books) can attest, it doesn’t always matter if you graduate from college (or have super powers), you can still be unemployed, disempowered, and completely disillusioned in the current global economy.  A systemic shift in the way that capital and labor are distributed needs to be the way to end poverty because little girls of color, they aren’t superheros.  They can’t make it rain…

Only Storm can do that… and she’s not real.

One Love,
“Doctor” Lane

P.S. A poverty monster? Who came up with that?  Bad idea.

Deeply White: Rembrandt Promises to “Whiten on the inside and out”

September 8th, 2012

I found this commercial at best, simply an ill-thought out attempt to be clever, and at worst, a complete and utter lack of consciousness about the still very present and active processes of ethnocentrism and racism which seek to stamp out difference; both literally and figuratively, whiten.

Then again, maybe it’s just a commercial… right? Maybe it’s really not that deep.

But cultural products take place within very specific contexts and social forces.   To say that this is “just a commercial” is to not recognize that all symbols, all choices of representation and presentation are just that, choices.

Graffiti is often associated with social ills.  Gangs.  Dark bodies.  Vandalism.  Young, scary dark children destroying property.  The commercial adopts the view of graffiti as a problem.  As vandalism.  As something out of place and wrong.  Dark and disorderly, and in need of being cleaned up, like plaque.

To not recognize that graffiti only works in this commercial when you imagine it in this way, is to not recognize that whiteness as pure, perfect, and devoid of all color; without stain or impurity, still reigns as the dominant ideology within the American visual lexicon.  They suggest their toothpaste, in an especially charming civilized British accent, as the solution to not only rid oneself of the stains on the outside of the tooth, but to fix it at the core as well.

To others however, graffiti is the artwork of disenfranchised youth in urban centers, and artwork which blossomed during the “Golden Age of Hip Hop”.  From this perspective, you can react with wonder when you see 10 feet tags on the craziest and hardest to reach places around the city and think on those kids who just want to be recognized and noticed as being and existing.  You can applaud them for their talent and resourcefulness, and be thankful that it’s not your garage door they tagged.

And if you have this perspective, then you know that Rembrandt and ever other toothpaste is full of crap because teeth just aren’t white.  They’re more of an eggshell.  Off white.  A shade of tan.  No matter how much you brush.  And those people who do have freakishly bright smiles?  They cheated.  They had some fancy procedure done that most of us can’t afford.  White teeth, like pure and unstained white bodies, do not exist in nature.  Certainly not after you eat that peppery salad for lunch, because you are going to have some green and black in between a couple of your teeth no matter what shade you are.  And those are the breaks.