I’ve been listening to this non-stop since yesterday. The brilliant and committed Jasiri-X has written and produced an amazing song that addresses the Trayvon Martin case. Blessed to have been in community with Jasiri and I have found him as kind as he is talented. That’s saying a lot. Listen and share with others.
“I should write something to mark the beginning of the George Zimmerman trial” is the thought rattling through my mind incessantly over the past couple of days. But I fear that I have run out of words… I’ve written about both Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin many times on this blog. No more words are forthcoming. I’ve been doing my best to ignore Sybrina Fulton’s daily tweets about her son this week. Today, she wrote: “You don’t have to know me to know my pain, use my pain & my lost to stand up for something.” It pushed me over the edge and I felt compelled to call forth Trayvon’s spirit.
“the mysterious connection
between whom we murder
and whom we mourn… – Audre Lorde (Dear Joe)”
I’ve been preoccupied with thoughts about his soul but also our country’s collective one. Does Trayvon’s soul rest easy? Or is it caught in the space “between whom we murder and whom we mourn” like thousands of other black people who have been tragically killed over the years in this country? Audre Lorde has written that: “Our dead line our dreams…” Unfortunately, too often black children are more likely to embody this country’s fears and nightmares.
Across time and space, my mind travels to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in December 1912. Simon Cadors, a black man, is convicted of killing a rich white planter. He’s sentenced to hang. As he awaits his appeal, he is kidnapped from his jail cell by a white mob and lynched. His body is found hanging from a telegraph pole on Christmas eve. Around his neck is a placard that reads: “The inevitable penalty.” It’s a warning to every black person in Louisiana; it’s southern ‘justice.’
A hundred years later, in my mind’s eye I see Trayvon. He’s lying on the cold concrete. As I get closer, I notice a placard hanging from his neck that reads: “The inevitable penalty.” It’s a warning to every black person in Florida; it’s southern ‘justice.’
There is a continuity between Simon Cadors and Trayvon Martin. Both exist in the space “between whom we murder and whom we mourn.” Despair and hope are once again at war within me. Audre whispers in my ear: “Despair is a tool for your enemies.” I decide to search for signs of hope. I find it once again in the voice of our youth:
I tell ‘em listen
I don’t fit your description
I don’t think that I embody this picture that you all are depicting
Lamar Jorden is a Chicago poet, writer and rapper. He has been part of the Louder than a Bomb (LTAB) poetry festival and appears on this year’s LTAB Mixtape. His song “Listen” is an exhortation for his peers to define themselves and to reject the negative stereotypes that society imposes on them. Jorden has taken on Sybrina’s Fulton’s call to use our pain and to stand up for something. He is also concerned with questions that Audre asked in 1977 (many years before he was born): “In what way can we cease to contribute to our own oppression? What hidden assumptions of the enemy have we eaten and made our own?” These are questions worth wrestling with as we work to build the world that we want to live in; a world free of oppression where true justice is possible.
On Sunday, I awoke to the news that some parents of Walter Payton Prep High School students refused to allow their children to play a night game on the campus of Gwendolyn Brooks Prep High.
You have to live in Chicago to fully appreciate this drama. Payton and Brooks are both selective enrollment public high schools in the city. Both are considered “good” schools. Payton is on the Northside of Chicago while Brooks is located on the Southside. Rich white parents use their clout to get their children admitted to Payton but not to Brooks. In case you didn’t know, Chicago is still the most segregated city in the United States. This also extends to our schools, of course.
One can hardly blame the parents of Payton students who were afraid that their children might succumb to violence on the dreaded “Southside.” Over the past three to four years, media accounts have portrayed Chicago as the wild, wild, West. Scarcely a day goes by that there isn’t another account of rampant “senseless” violence in the city.
It’s gotten so bad that the former police superintendent, Jody Weis, felt the need to proclaim during a news conference in 2010: “We are not Chi-raq. We are Chicago.”
This brings me to the main issue that I wanted to address today.
I love this song. Stay tuned for information about an upcoming project that I am working on about the Young Lords.
Someone got really angry at me last week. She asked me to “defend” Chief Keef and I said no. I declined to engage with her not because Chief Keef isn’t “worth” defending but rather because he is a proxy & therefore irrelevant. What this woman really wanted me to do was to condemn Keef. I won’t do it. [Full disclosure: I've been asked to appear in the media to talk about Keef & have declined too.]
Many people cringe when they watch Chief Keef’s video for his song “I Don’t Like.” Some people find their fears of young black men confirmed by the images that they see. Others rage against him for embodying the worst stereotypes attributed to black boys. Are we to believe, however, that the negative ideas that people have about young black men originate with Keef and his videos? Come on. Those stereotypes and ideas predate Keef by several generations. The cultural work of racism that set the stage for dehumanizing black people has its roots in the 19th century. Keef really didn’t make this world; he’s inherited it and we are all culpable for this.
If you are taking to the media or the pulpit to skewer Keef, you are wasting your time. It is easy to rant and much more difficult to propose constructive solutions for the social problems that give birth to the destructive realities that Keef raps about and that he lives.
Kevin Coval gets at this in the preface of his new chapbook More Shit Chief Keef Don’t Like:
Every institution in Chicago fails Black youth. Segregated and systematically inequitable, Chicago is a town where white kids exist in an increasingly idyllic new urban utopia, and Black and Latino kids weave and dodge through a war zone. The largest specter in the spectacle and circus that surrounds the city, Chief Keef has become its poster boy and scapegoat. He is a young man who looks and sounds like thousands of young people in Chicago—reared in a culture of nihilism, death, and capitalism. He is a young man who sings the demented measures and results of white supremacy, the legacy and maintenance of grand inequity. Chief Keef sings a tortured and tormented Chicago song. It is a song we need to listen to carefully.
Like some other young black men in Chicago his age, Keef has already been in trouble with the law. He’s been arrested and spent time in jail. He is also unapologetic about these things. Keef is a symptom and product of Chicago’s devastated and blighted inner city communities. This past July, Daniel Shea wrote a profile titled “Chief Keef: Lost Boys,” it’s worth reading.
Keef is just 17 years old and he is basically a commodity at this point. He performs and probably makes much more money for corporations than he does for himself. I don’t know the young man personally but I would bet that he is no different than the other 17 year old black boys that I meet and interact with daily. He is no doubt holding a lot of anger, he is probably funny & mercurial, he might be sullen & sweet, he does a lot of weed and it’s clear that he is brilliant. In other words, Keef is as Kevin points out like “thousands of young people in Chicago.”
And the truth is that thousands of young people in Chicago are being failed on a minute by minute basis. So I won’t waste my time moralizing against Keef. I will instead continue to condemn and to hold accountable the systems and institutions that are supposed to ensure the health and well-being of the thousands of youth like him.
At all ten of the facilities, people reported waiting weeks or months for medical care; inadequate, and in some cases a total absence, of any outdoor recreation time or access to sunlight or fresh air; minimal and inedible food; the use of solitary confinement as punishment; and the extreme remoteness of many of the facilities from any urban area which makes access to legal services nearly impossible.
Detention Watch Network calls for the immediate closure of these facilities. One of these detention centers is the Tri-County Detention Center which is the only privately-run immigrant detention center in Illinois. You can read a summary of the terrible conditions at Tri-County HERE (PDF).
A couple of weeks ago, I co-organized an event about youth incarceration at the Gage Gallery at Roosevelt University. This was part of a discussion series accompanying the Juvenile-In-Justice photo exhibition.
The program featured a panel comprised of formerly incarcerated young men and was ably moderated by my friend Amanda Klonsky. I can’t stress how important it is for spaces to exist where youth can narrate their own experiences of incarceration. Their stories were poignant, moving, and searing.
If you were not lucky enough to be present to hear the stories first hand, my friend Sarah Lu kindly taped the panel and then uploaded the audio to Soundcloud. You can listen here. Please share this with others too.
This week has me thinking about Kim Jones (aka Lil Kim) again. A young woman I am working with e-mailed a photograph of her and I was left speechless. Kim is unrecognizable to me. I have always been fascinated by her and have written about her a couple of times on this blog here and here.
The legend of Lil’ Kim begins with her “discovery” by Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G) on the streets of Bed-Sty in Brooklyn. She released her debut album titled “Hardcore” in 1996. In interviews, she has said: “Lil’ Kim is what I use to get money, a character I use to sell my records.” Yet one wonders if this is truly the case. What is the distance between the character of Lil’ Kim and Kimberly Jones? One thing is certain: she is a complex person, full of contradictions. It is perhaps this, above all, that makes her so interesting & relevant to me.