These are some impressions…I am thinking through recent experiences.
This Jim DeRogatis quote has floated across my Twitter timeline several times this week. DeRogatis was referencing the lack of accountability for R.Kelly’s repeated sexual assaults of black girls. I must admit to grinding my teeth every time I’ve seen the quote. It isn’t that I don’t agree with the sentiments expressed by DeRogatis. Rather, I don’t believe that 90% of those who are sharing the quote actually grasp the lived realities of too many young black women and girls in America. So the implications of the quote are too easily ignored. But for hyper-disposable black girls, the pain lingers and festers…
“Nobody matters less to our society than young black women.”
I’ve spent the greater part of my adult life working with black girls and young women. I created a workshop that I co-facilitated several years ago focused on using Lil’ Kim’s image and experiences to illuminate our own lives as black girls and women. In other words, I’ve had a longstanding interest in and commitment to engaging in discussions with black girls about issues of representation and survival.
“Nobody matters less to our society than young black women.”
Since Beyonce released her visual album last week, there have been many, many attempts to analyze, dissect, and discuss it. This is not another post about Beyonce. At least, it’s not a post about whether Beyonce is or is not feminist. It’s also not an album review. It’s a post (I think) about the historical devaluing of black American girls and women and its implications for today.
I found this ad and think that it conveys so much about the cruelty & horror of slavery. It also illustrates the intersections between slavery and incarceration.
Source: NYPL Digital Collection
Herman Wallace would have turned 72 years old today. Instead on October 4th, he died in his sleep, his body ravaged by liver cancer. Wallace had just been released from a Louisiana prison three days earlier after having spent over 40 years in solitary confinement in a 6 by 9 cell.
Among his final words, he is reported to have said: “I am free. I am free.” It’s a minor miracle that he was able to die surrounded by friends instead of in a prison hospital. A judge overturned his 1974 conviction for the murder of a guard at Angola prison and ordered his immediate release. Only a couple of days later, while he lay dying in his hospital bed, the state of Louisiana filed charges to re-indict him. There was actually a question as to whether he might be re-arrested. Louisiana was determined that Wallace should die in prison by any means necessary.
If you look closely at this rare photograph, you can see Frederick Douglass. If you are interested in the history of the “Great Cazenovia Fugitive Slave Law Convention,” click here to learn more:
On August 21 and 22, 1850, in the orchard of Grace Wilson’s School, located on Sullivan Street in the village of Cazenovia, was held one of the largest and most important of the many abolition meetings. It was estimated that between 2000 and 3000 people came to the Cazenovia Convention, including “a considerable number of escaped slaves,” including famed orator Frederick Douglass and the Edmonson sisters. Leading abolitionists and rights activists of the time took the podium and spread their word calling for abolition of slavery.
In the crowd was Cazenovia’s daguerrean artist Ezra Greenleaf Weld, brother of Theodore Weld, one of the leading abolitionists. An image of the Cazenovia Convention, in the collections of the Madison County Historical Society, and captured by E.G. Weld, is among the most important images of early photography (a contemporary copy of the Weld image is in the Getty Museum.)
The roots of today’s carceral state can be found in part in laws like the Fugitive Slave act.
[Please be advised that this is very traumatic information to read & must have been hell to experience.]
There is an inextricable connection between power, control, and privilege. It is often difficult for people to wrap their heads around these concepts individually, let alone to understand them as intersecting. After the George Zimmerman verdict, there’s been a lot of talk about the continuing salience of racism in American culture. It’s been shocking though how decontextualized from actual history some of the discussion has been. Racism is of course woven through all of our structures. It has always been so and continues today. Racism (like other forms of oppression) is held together through violence which helps to maintain unequal relationships.
It’s useful, I think, to focus on specific examples from history to make these ideas more concrete. I’m reading an absolutely harrowing book by Geo W. Carleton titled “The Suppressed Book About Slavery.” I came across a story that is seared in my mind. It illustrates that slaveowners didn’t respect the bonds of marriage between enslaved people. It shows how slave women were always at risk of sexual violence. One also gets an up-close account of the brutality of slavery which is often obscured in our sanitized re-tellings of history. Most importantly, the story underscores that American racism was a series of ACTIONS that sought to purposely subjugate & sublimate an entire class of people over hundreds of years. Many of these actions deliberately engendered black pain and suffering. Any discussions of the current role of race & racism in the country that don’t take these realities into account are not worth having.
[This was written in haste and I have a ton to do today. I felt that I had to write this post as an ally to black girls and young women who are consistently maligned, insulted, assaulted, pathologized and oppressed. Many of the young women who I have and currently work with and love are "teen mothers." I want them to know that I have their back. I am sure that I will return to this topic again soon. For now, here's what I have to say.]
I woke up today to see this photograph…
Evidently this billboard is part of New York City’s Human Resource Administration’s “Think Being a Teen Parent Won’t Cost You?” campaign. It’s hard to know even where to begin with this…
When I was in college, I read an account by a free black man named Solomon Northup who had been kidnapped and held as a slave for 12 years. In 12 Years A Slave, he described the closing scene of a New Orleans auction in 1841:
“…The bargain was agreed upon, and Randall [a Negro child] must go alone. Then Eliza [his mother] ran to him; embraced him passionately; kissed him again and again; told him to remember her — all the while her tears falling in the boy’s face like rain.
“Freeman [the dealer] damned her, calling her a blabbering, bawling wench, and ordered her to go to her place and behave herself, and be somebody. He would soon give her something to cry about, if she was not mighty careful, and that she might depend upon.
“The planter from Baton Rouge, with his new purchase, was ready to depart.
“‘Don’t cry, mama. I will be a good boy. Don’t cry,’ said Randall, looking back, as they passed out of the door.
“What has become of the lad, God knows. It was a mournful scene, indeed. I would have cried if I had dared.”