Oct 31 2012

Short Hiatus…

So I have been working non-stop for days now. I have been juggling running an organization, completing a major project with the opening of the Black/Inside exhibition, and trying to live a life in between. It turns out that all of this activity can take a toll. I am going to take a few days off from blogging to recouperate. I should be back to regular posting next week.

I’ll leave you with a great video that my friend Jake Klippenstein filmed to preview the Black/Inside exhibition. If you haven’t yet had a chance to stop by to visit the exhibition, I hope that you will before November 21st.

Oct 30 2012

I Proudly Cast My Vote for Barack Hussein Obama…

When I turned 18, the first thing that I did was register to vote. I did it because when I was maybe 9 years old, I checked out a book titled “Fannie Lou Hamer” written by June Jordan from my local library. It was not until much later that I would learn who June Jordan was. But at 9 years old, I met Fannie. She became one of my first touchstones and continues to be an inspiration. Yesterday, I voted early in Chicago. Every time I have cast a ballot since I was 18, I say a prayer of thanks to Fannie. It’s a tradition.

My politics are complicated and hard to describe. I am further to the left of most people who consider themselves to be Progressives. Yet I find most of the people who should be my natural allies insufferable and usually joyless. So I tend to avoid gathering or building with them.

I have assiduously avoided all discussions about politics during this election cycle with some of my closest allies. This is mainly because I am profoundly bored with the various critiques of President Obama and of electoral politics more generally. Let me be clear, I don’t care if people criticize the President or electoral politics. In fact, these are good things to do. I, however, don’t care about people’s critiques and I am sure that no one is interested in what I think about the President either.

I never thought that President Obama was a radical. I knew that he was a Centrist Democrat. I don’t feel “disappointed” in him and I don’t feel duped or lied to. I appreciate the progress that has been made over the past 4 years on some issues like Health Care and Civil Rights. I am glad that he has appointed some competent people to the Supreme court. I abhor his targeted killing of innocent civilians through the drone program. I want him to end the war on drugs. I want him to stop encouraging the privatization of public education. I can go on but I won’t. It’s unnecessary and pointless.

I don’t subscribe to the view that President Obama is the same as George W. Bush or Mitt Romney. I find statements like these ridiculous and the people who spew them to be unoriginal. I don’t expect anyone with my political orientation to be elected as the President of the United States like ever and that’s OK with me. I am perfectly happy with my role as an outside agitator rather than as an inside political player. This is as it should be. Barack Obama’s re-election offers people like me more room to organize and to press our demands. This will not be the case with the election of Mitt Romney. I believe that the issues that I care most about have a better chance of being advanced if Pres. Obama is re-elected. I believe in incremental progress over stagnation or reversal. Fundamental social transformation is a long, hard slog. People only stick with it if they can see some progress being made. That’s been my experience as an organizer.

As a Black woman, I am cognizant of what it must be like to be the first Black President of the United States. For this reason, my respect and empathy for Barack Obama are immense. In this, I fully embrace an essentialist view of race. I don’t think that people who aren’t black can understand what I mean. I also don’t claim that all black people feel the way that I do. I just think that my blackness, in this case, gives me a particular ability to empathize with Pres. Obama’s first-ness. The level of hatred and opposition that he has faced from white people in this country has been overwhelming. Just a couple of days ago, I read an article by the AP that suggests that animosity and racism against black people is at its highest level in years. It is in this environment that Barack Obama is governing and I never forget that. Throughout these past 4 years, he has conducted himself always with dignity. I am always reminded of Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” every time I watch the President on TV. Only Black people in this country can truly grasp the meaning of those words.

So I cast my vote for Barack Obama yesterday and said a prayer of thanks to Fannie.

Oct 29 2012

“Kasserian Ingera or How Are the Children?”

The Masai warriors usually greet each other with “Kasserian Ingera” or “How are the children?” The traditional answer is “All the children are well.” I really like this greeting because it clearly underscores the priority that this culture puts on the well-being of its most vulnerable members.

I was thinking about this when I read the recent Human Rights Watch report “Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States.” The Huffington Post published an article describing the findings of the report:

The report is based on interviews and correspondence with more than 125 young people in 19 states who spent time in solitary confinement while under age 18, as well as with jail and/or prison officials in 10 states.

Human Rights Watch and the ACLU estimate that in 2011, more than 95,000 young people under age 18 were held in prisons and jails. A significant number of these facilities use solitary confinement – for days, weeks, months, or even years – to punish, protect, house, or treat some of the young people held there.

Because young people are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow, the groups found. Solitary confinement can exacerbate short- and long-term mental health problems or make it more likely that such problems will develop. Young people in solitary confinement are routinely denied access to treatment, services, and programming required to meet their medical, psychological, developmental, social, and rehabilitative needs.

Below is a video with interviews of youth who experienced solitary confinement:

It would serve us all well in the U.S. if we began to greet each other with “Kasserian Ingera.” Perhaps this would be a reminder to us not to torture our children…

Oct 28 2012

Poem of the Day: Chicago (Keef) by Kevin Coval…

Today, I am going to try something different. I want to share audio of the poem “Chicago (Keef)” by the terrific Kevin Coval. This is a poem from his new book “More Shit Chief Keef Don't Like.” You can watch Kevin speak about his book, Chief Keef and violence in Chicago here.

Oct 27 2012

To Take a Plea Deal or Not to Take a Plea Deal…

A friend reached out to me yesterday.

A young man who she works with was standing in front of a judge and was offered a plea deal. He was told that he had to decide on the spot whether he would accept it. She needed to know if the deal was a “good” one. She called me.

I am not a lawyer but I have had a lot of experience being inside courtrooms. The young man was facing several felony battery charges against three police officers. He claims that he was harassed and then beaten by the cops. The officers were apparently looking for a robbery suspect, came across him, and promptly began to get rough with him. It was a case of mistaken identity and he fought back. The court case has dragged on for almost a year.

The prosecutors are now offering to decrease the charges to one misdemeanor count of battery of a law enforcement officer. If he agrees to the plea, he would not be able to expunge or seal this conviction. He currently has no criminal record and is in his early 20s.

I called some lawyer friends of mine immediately. They suggested that the deal sounded like a “good” one for the young man. One lawyer friend suggested that the state likely did not have a strong case which was why it was offering this deal. This of course gives one pause.

The judge continued the case to early November so the young man now has some time to consider the offer. He wants to take his case to trial rather than to take the plea because he is innocent.

All of us are worried. We don’t want him to plead to something that he did not do. However, those of us with experience in the criminal legal system know that a he said/he said between a young black man and three cops is unlikely to end well for the young person.

If he goes to trial and is found guilty of just one of the felony battery counts then he will get prison time. If he takes the plea deal, then it is likely probation. The stakes are high.

Oct 26 2012

Infographic: The High Costs of Arresting D.C. Youth

Oct 24 2012

The Social Construction of Black Criminality

For months, I have had Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s “The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America” on a bookshelf. I was looking forward to reading it but have been distracted by other books. I finally finished the book over this weekend.

In the introduction, Gibran (2010) explains that the book is a “biography of the idea of black criminality in the making of modern urban America (p.1).” A central premise of the book is that white reformers used crime statistics to explain and humanize white immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In contrast, crime statistics were used to reinforce and “condemn” the idea of black criminality. This data was offered as proof of black inferiority and therefore to justify further criminalization. This was in stark contrast to how white progressives in the early 20th century used crime data related to white immigrants. That information was marshaled to call for more resources to help better assimilate these newcomers into American society. Muhammad (2010) writes:

“For these reformers, immigrants’ humanity trumped the scale of their crimes and the cultural expressions of their social resistance.By contrast, African American crime to many white race-relations experts stood as an almost singular reflection of black culture and humanity (p.274).”

Gibran traces the publication of the 1890 census as a key moment when “prison statistics for the first time became the basis of a national discussion about blacks as a distinct and dangerous criminal population (p.3).”

In light of the fact that I have been immersed in examining the social construction of black criminality over the past few months, this book is timely and extremely relevant. Part of what I wanted to do with the Black/Inside exhibition was to make this process of the social construction of black criminality more visible. I think that we were partly successful in achieving that goal.

Here’s Gibran talking about himself and his book with Bill Moyers:

Khalil Muhammad on Facing Our Racial Past from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

Oct 23 2012

Black/Inside: Images From The Opening Reception…

So yesterday was a terrific night. Well over 90 people attended the opening reception for our Black/Inside: A History of Captivity & Confinement exhibition. It really was a great turnout. If you are in the Chicago area this Saturday, I will be at the exhibition giving tours from 1 to 4 p.m. There will be a tour each hour. You are invited to visit.

For those who can’t make it to Chicago over the next month, below are some great photos taken by my friend Sarah Jane Rhee (who is an amazing photographer) at the opening. In addition, my friend Jake will have some video which I will post at the Black/Inside website soon.

Photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

Photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

Photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/22/12)

Photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

Photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

Photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

Photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

Oct 22 2012

Black/Inside Opening Reception Tonight…

Finally, tonight is the reception to celebrate the opening of the Black/Inside: A History of Captivity & Confinement exhibition. I can hardly believe it. We have worked really hard to make this a reality. My thanks to my co-collaborators Teresa and Billy. Also, my deepest appreciation to everyone who helped to make this exhibition happen. I am exhausted and will be taking a break from blogging (for the most part) this week.

Here is one of the exhibition panels that you can expect to see.

Black/Inside Exhibition Panel (10/20/12)

Below is a list of events associated with the exhibition. If you are in Chicago, please make sure to join us.

Oct 20 2012

Poem of the Day: for bobbie and terry by Norma Stafford

for bobbie and terry
by Norma Stafford

we sit together, you and i,
bound by our mutual suffering
at the hands of our keepers
we make jokes that force
our minds to leave here
and follow the hard path of laughter
we laugh at our condition
both the physical and the mental.
tears are pushed forward
by the onslaught of anger
we strike out at each other
hard furious blows that bruise
and sometimes draw blood
then we fall sobbing into
the arms of each other
the tender hands of each
ministering to the wounds of the other
such gentleness, such hate, such love
we feel one for the other
locked together, bound together
in this small hated space.