alright

It sure would be nice, in the wake of Justice Kennedy’s announcement that he will retire, cementing a conservative vote in the Supreme Court, to say that everything will be alright. I have the skill to bend language to do that work. And I know that there are people who are feeling very pessimistic about the current state of the nation and the prospects for this nation’s future, so there’s really no better time to cheer folks up.

But what comes to my mind this morning is one of Naughty by Nature’s best songs, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (Ghetto Bastard).” (Link to the video is NSFW, here are the lyrics.) It’s my favorite song of theirs. The chorus repeats everything’s gonna be alright over a pleasant track, but the verses… The verses indicate the exact opposite. It’s not pessimism, it’s realism. It’s a song about how ugly life can be. It’s unflinching and unapologetic. It is the very spirit of what it feels like to know your situation is fucked up, and it’s a harsh rebuke to anyone who insists someone should only speak positively in the midst of a bad situation. “Say something positive? Well, positive ain’t where I live.” There’s a time and a place for optimism. But there’s also a healthy and necessary time and place to call a bad situation what it is.

Our country is in a bad situation. And I think that maybe we need to absorb the weight of this reality – just sit in that for a minute. And maybe conjure up some of the anger that Treach put into his delivery of the Ghetto Bastard lyrics. Throw in a healthy measure of the defiance and resilience you hear in that last verse. We’re all gonna need it, because it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

 

cowards, the lot of them

I’m sorry, what did you cowards say about Maxine Waters?

Every single person with a public platform who opposes the current president’s agenda, yet has jumped on the bandwagon to criticize her is a coward.

I learned as a child that the only way to stop a bully is confrontation. If you don’t let them know that you see what they are doing and you will not tolerate it, they will take your silence, your kindness, your patience, your civility, for not just weakness, but permission to continue to abuse you. I also learned that witnesses who don’t stand up to bullies are the worst kind of enablers.

We should stand for righteousness. We should stand with the people who speak out for the weak and the troubled. We should protect the targeted. Even at cost to our own well being. And every time that Maxine Waters criticizes this administration or the people who do its dirty work, she does the work of a hero. She speaks truth to power, constantly putting herself in the crosshairs of those people who are destroying labor rights, human rights, women’s rights, gender rights, civil rights, and voting rights right before our eyes. It is not entirely thankless work – many people have been very thankful for her presence in Congress and the way that she uses her public platform. She often amplifies the unspoken or unheard thoughts of Americans who disagree with the current federal administration.

And this is why it is shameful that people like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have condemned her. After the press secretary was publicly shamed at a Virginia restaurant, Rep. Waters said that in response to this administration’s separation of families at the border, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” No matter how you feel about what happened to the press secretary, what Rep. Waters’ remarks called for is peaceful public dissent, like the kind that happened there – not violence – dissent.

Peaceful public dissent is what makes our country worth salvaging. On any day, at any time, on any issue, if an American has a problem with their government, they can use their speech, they can assemble, they can alert the press, they can start a blog, they can make a banner, and they can speak truth to power to lobby for the changes they want to see. Peaceful public dissent is a world better than coerced private fear. We have a federal administration that is led by a shameless bully – a man who advertised his desire to kill innocent children whose guilt had not been proven, a man who tries to use intimidation and threats to “govern,” a man who regularly threatens the integrity of the First Amendment by using his administration to undermine freedom of the press, a man who gained popularity during his campaign by encouraging his devotees to literally be violent against political opponents. Coerced private fear is what he would prefer from the American people. His people are purposely trying to discourage immigration by separating families with no intelligible plans to reunite them. That is bigger than bullying, and it is being carried out at this administration’s orders.

Rep. Waters’ point is that people who are carrying out these orders and supporting these actions should be told that this is wrong and Americans don’t want this. These are human rights abuses, and we should not sit idly by and let them happen. We can donate money for their legal representation, we can call our senators and congressional representatives (unless yours, like mine, resigned in disgrace under the heat of a “me too” scandal), we can write letters, attend rallies… and we also have the right to tell these people what we think about what they’re doing when we see them out and about.

Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and other spineless Democrats are afraid that if we open the door to on-the-street criticism , we’re also inviting that kind of criticism upon them. They know the door swings both ways, and they don’t want anti-abortion activists surrounding their cars in the drug store parking lot. I can’t imagine how scary that possibility must be for them, but I don’t sympathize with them. They were brave enough to run for office. They need to be brave enough to be accountable for their political convictions everywhere they go. Because while they were rigging the primaries, ignoring Russian interference, and trying to play nice during the 2016 election, they allowed an aspiring authoritarian strongman with crass mannerisms and knuckle-dragging ideas of how to treat people to drag down the civility and respectability of the presidential office and everything connected to it. If they thought that intimidation would only be limited to his presidential campaign rallies, that’s their fault for not reacting appropriately to an alarming rise in confrontational behavior. Don’t pin the decline in American civility on Rep. Waters – she is reacting to the radically changed environment, which civility left a long time ago. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Or better yet, govern with courage in order to change the game.

These Democrats didn’t even have to publicly agree with her statements. They could have said that although they would not choose to do the same, they understand her comments to mean that Americans should express their opinions about their government to their government. But if they couldn’t say that, they could have said nothing. Instead, they are all but publicly shaming their colleague. People are saying that she is inciting violence. There is talk of making her resign over this. And these cowards are sitting idly by, letting the bullies run roughshod over one of the few people brave enough to do what they all should be doing.

“When they go low, we go high,” does not mean to appease your bullies by being sweet and hiding behind notions of civility. It means that you can do the right thing without disrespecting others’ humanity. Had Rep. Waters endorsed violence, I wouldn’t be on her side on this one, but she didn’t. Anyone who pretends that her comments were beyond the pale is compromising themselves to meet the bully in a middle ground that hasn’t existed in a long time, paving the way for more abuse. Giving an inch, ceding a mile. Rep. Waters deserves better. If she goes for incivility, the president should go for that and more, too.

a new thing altogether

I recently watched an installment of the Vox Borders series that talked about a community of Koreans in Japan. They were brought to Japan when Korea was subject to the Japanese empire in East Asia.   The Japanese, who saw Koreans as inferior, took them from Korea to use them as grunt workers and sex workers. Japan was stripped of control of Korea after World War II. This community of Koreans in Japan, most of whom can trace their families to what is now South Korea, had already been living in Japan for years when the Korean War split their home country.

They were living separate and apart from the Japanese who surrounded them, and hungry for a connection to their homeland. The dictator who headed North Korea, a country backed by the communist Soviet Union, reached out to these lost Koreans, providing them with the money and resources to improve their lot in Japan. With this support, they built schools, bought property, and created museums and other cultural institutions in honor of their homeland. Their culture provides them with comfort and pride even though they are not in Korea. Generations of Koreans have now been born in Japan, and have never even been to Korea, but they are loyal to the Kim family, which runs North Korea. At North Korea’s invitation, some of these lost Koreans even decided to migrate back to Korea. However, many stayed in Japan.

Things went well for these Koreans until North Korea began to act aggressively and pose a nuclear threat to its Japanese neighbor. The Koreans in Japan were stripped of their financial holdings. They are harassed in the streets by the Japanese. They are only safe to culturally identify as Koreans among each other. They are increasingly turned inward towards their own community as a result of icy relations with their Japanese countrymen, and the Japanese, who are known for holding their own culture superior to others, hate the Koreans even more for their loyalty to North Korea and their refusal to let go of their culture and fully assimilate to Japanese ways.

I was absolutely fascinated by this story – the idea of a people who were fully a part of a country but who are not really a part of that country at all. The parallels between their story and the story of Africans who were brought to America for labor, only to be resented and treated like second-class citizens after their involuntary migration are too strong to be ignored.

I saw discussion about the video about these Koreans in Japan online and scrolled through the comments to see what people thought about it. Again, the parallels were too strong. Over and over again, people asked why the Koreans don’t just leave Japan if things are so bad for them there. Why don’t they just go back to Korea where they came from? Or, if they want to stay in Japan, why don’t they just assimilate and become culturally Japanese? Sound familiar? Why don’t black people stop [insert behavior considered black here] and be like “real” Americans? Or, if they hate it so much here, why don’t they just go back to Africa? I swear, some people are stupid.

These Koreans in Japan are neither Korean (North or South) nor Japanese. Culturally, they are a new thing altogether. Their hearts are with the Korean people, with the language, with the stories. But their bodies have long been in Japan. In their own way, no matter how hard they try not to be, they are Japanese people, living in Japan, enjoying some of the freedoms of being in Japan, as opposed to the stringent lifestyles their cousins are currently living in North Korea. They are used to the lives they currently live. They are surrounded by the people who know and love them. They should not be expected to shrug all of this off to move to a new home, and even if they did, how do you think these people would be seen upon arriving in North Korea? As Japanese. A better outcome would be for the Japanese to accept the Koreans for who they are, and open themselves to the idea that there isn’t just one way to be Japanese. I think this is unlikely, given that Japan and North Korea are bitter enemies and that may pose a danger to Japan. If only they could find a way to accept each other…

Like how Americans claim they have. “Melting pot,” indeed. Despite the way we’ve been treated, and still are treated, black Americans are still here for many reasons. We don’t know much about Africa. We didn’t have an African benefactor to foster our love for Igbo, Hausa, or Akan people and traditions – Wakanda is not only isolationist,  it’s also fictional. Also, if we wanted to go, how would we afford to scrap our lives here and start all over elsewhere?  Why should we leave our elders and infirm who would struggle to make the journey? If we were to go – to Liberia, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana – where would we go? Who would welcome us? Surely we would be seen as Americans. We don’t even know who would hire us or patronize our businesses. We would be at home, but we would not be at home.

We are Africans. We are Americans. Staying here, going there – either way, we are a new thing altogether. A better outcome would be for other Americans to accept us for who we are, open themselves to the idea that there isn’t just one way to be American, and truly treat us like how they would want to be treated.  Because we are Americans, we will agitate until that happens in earnest. And because we are Africans, what we do know about African cultures provides us with comfort and pride even though we are not in West Africa. We will continue to unapologetically be who we are, without leaving to appease others.

And although my ancestors have been here, working to build this country for centuries, since before this was even a country, and much longer than many of the families who are comparatively only a few generations in, I will resist the urge to answer calls for us to leave with, “Go back to Europe.” Not because they don’t deserve it, but because it’s stupid. Once their ancestors came here to America, they also became a new thing altogether. That’s how this works.

proteck ya neck

A group I’d rather not contribute internet traffic to has a clip making the internet rounds that tries to make the case for why black people should “get off the plantation” of voting Democrat. Its main point is that we should not trust the motives of the white people who contribute to liberal political organizations, because white people don’t have black political interests at heart and they want our families decimated so we keep depending on them and voting for them. I agree 100% that just because white liberal people are liberal, that does not mean they necessarily care about black lives. Depends on the people. I agree that we should look at the motives of white people who want our agreement and our votes. I have witnessed, over and over again, white liberal people being paternalistic, racist, and ignorant. But that’s where we stop agreeing, and I’m going to state my disagreements point by point.
 
In this video clip, a young black man in an audience full of white people says that Black Lives Matter is “white liberals in blackface,” because they care about feminism and LGBT issues. I imagine this may alienate this guy, since he is a man, who we are to assume is straight. So we are now supposed to think that men should not care about societal oppression of women, and that straight people should not care about societal oppression of gay or non-gender-conforming people. Or that if black men and/or straight people do care, it’s not because they personally care about how other people are treated, but it’s because some white person with money told them to care. That’s basically saying black people don’t think for ourselves. Here’s a hint – the way to get me to hear your point of view is not to start by telling me I’m too stupid to know when someone is running a con on me.
 
In language clearly intended to speak to our resentment of slavery, he repeats, “I’m off the plantation, bro.” Putting aside that I don’t know any brothers who talk like that, “bro,” I’ve heard that language before from conservatives who assert that black people use peer pressure to make us all espouse the same political opinions. I think to some extent, that’s true, not just of black people, but all subpopulations in this country. But I’ve only heard the plantation language in relation to black people, and I’m insulted someone thinks that black people who don’t politically align with conservatives didn’t come to their conclusions using thoughts of their own.
 
He calls “LGBT, women, non-binary, white feminism, [and] all that Hillary Clinton stuff,” “white people ideas.” First, tell that to all the black queer people in our communities, who “live with roommates,” never bring significant others around their families, throw themselves into church activities, or who live out and proud all without consulting a single white person about how to live their lives. Second, the irony that he’s saying this in a room full of white people who are nodding and clapping and laughing approvingly is not lost on me.
 
Now, BLM being started by lesbian women is problematic, he says, because it’s not supporting black families. Because they don’t mention black fathers on the website. First, a moment of silence for my frustration at this assertion. BLM is a social justice organization, which states on its website that black families are one of its priorities. But besides that, being lesbian is not in opposition to caring about black families and black fathers in any way, full stop. Black lesbians come from black fathers and black families, and many birth black fathers and raise black families. Many of the men BLM has stood up for are black fathers. Other victims of racist violence were born black males and killed because they weren’t gender conforming, and their lives matter no less than black fathers like Eric Garner’s or Walter Scott’s lives did. BLM – lesbians, gay men, straight people, an entire group of black and brown people – was there for justice for them.
 
So then this black woman on the panel in this video responds to the young man’s comment, talking about how liberals “[M]anipulate you by using a term that no one in their right mind would be against.” Then she goes on to talk about Planned Parenthood and how they kill black babies every day. Well, who wants black babies killed every day – who in their right mind would want that? She is doing for the conservative cause exactly what she is saying her liberal opponents do – we’re not supposed to notice that because we’re supposed to blown away by the revelation of what she’s saying as a supposed aside. (And we’re supposed to forget that most political conservatives don’t believe in funding comprehensive sex education or adequately supporting poor families because Reagan’s mythical welfare queen is black.)
 
She says when you do a deep dive you’ll see that BLM is an arm of the [liberal] Democratic party that wants to keep black people enslaved via their emotion and their anger. Because I suppose it’s black people’s emotion and anger shooting unarmed people in the streets, de-funding public schools, warehousing young people in prisons, ticketing and fining, nickel and diming us out of productive citizenship?
 
Well, I have questions. Enslaved and dependent to whom? The Democrats, of course.  If we don’t vote for the Democrats, who should we vote for, the Republicans? Got it. Because they’ll talk about the things that matter, she says, like straight black men, and black fathers in the home. First, paternalistic much? Right in line with what most racists jump to first as the “problem with the black community,” this woman went straight for family values as opposed to the many societal injustices black people face. Secondly, when was the last time you heard a Republican or conservative talking about straight black fathers in the home or doing anything to keep black families together other than to scold black people for not doing it, as if 1) we don’t know any “better,” and 2) disinvestment in our communities by both private industry and Dem and GOP administrations haven’t led to high unemployment, low graduation rates, high crime, and high incarceration rates, which put pressure on poor families of every color, disproportionally affecting black families.
 
See, here’s the thing. Not all black people think alike. We differ on whether abortion is okay and whether homosexuality is acceptable. Some of us are religious conservatives. Some hate welfare and resent the people on it. Some resent wage wars with immigrants who will work for much less than we feel we’re worth. Some resent how Democrats are in political power in the cities where many of us live, and that seemingly has done little for us over the past 50-60 years. Not all black people, and in fact, I’d guess most black people, are not enthusiastically behind all liberal notions. There is no small number of black people who believe in supporting the economy by having business-friendly policies, in small government, in lower taxes, and in fiscal conservatism.
 
But we are intelligent people. We are capable of thinking with nuance. We don’t need white people – liberals or conservatives – to tell us how to think. We make the best political decisions we can given the choices we have (and there honestly aren’t enough viable choices).  Conservatives seem to think that white liberals told us a paternalistic story about how we are victims of racism, we need a big government to take care of us, and that we are not responsible for improving our economic and social prospects in this country because whites are bad and guilty and owe us everything. Conservatives believe we lapped that up gratefully and that’s the reason why we vote with Democrats more often, because that’s what conservative media leaders tell them. Conservatives believe if they paternalistically tell us a counter story, appealing to the American propensity to believe conspiracy theories, and saying that we’re being bamboozled by liberals. They believe that their opening with us is to appeal to our well-known spirituality and our conservative religious beliefs. If we begin to focus on policing personal decisions of others, then we may defect from voting alongside (NOT WITH. ALONGSIDE!) white liberals and begin to support conservative politicians.
But it’s white conservatives who lied and said that separate was equal when it wasn’t. They didn’t want to integrate schools, workplaces, or neighborhoods. They started whites-only private schools and fought school bussing in the north and in the south. They didn’t support the Civil Rights Act or Affirmative Action. They disagreed with the categorization and special treatment of hate crimes against people of color. In revolt against the integration and civil rights progress of the 20th century, they defected from the Democratic party to become Republicans in response to appeals to racism by Nixon and Goldwater. They infiltrated and transformed the party of Lincoln into the mob of tiki-torch wielding racists who gave us the current president, making a deal with the devil so they could control the supreme court, roll back worker rights, women’s rights, affirmative action, civil liberties, start COINTELPRO-type monitoring activities against black activists and the press, strip retirement benefits from our parents and grandparents, return to the economics that squeezed us during the Reagan years, and strip away every accomplishment of the first black president that they possibly can. We know what “take our country back” and “make America great again” means. We know when they say, “law and order,” they mean, “lock ’em up.” We know that being forced to stand for a song that talks about liberties we still don’t have is the same stuff our soldiers had to fight against decades ago in Europe, just to come home and be told the GI Bill was not for them, and Jim Crow was God’s will.
We didn’t believe a story told to us by white liberals. We believe the facts of the lives that we live, the lessons we were taught from our elders, and the reality of what we see in the news every day.
 
We can hold conservative beliefs and still vote for people who won’t actively try to screw over the most vulnerable among us. And we do, time and time again, as if it’s a matter of survival. Because it is. Imagine the irony, the unmitigated gall, of people who knowingly harbor neo-Nazis in their political party saying that we need to beware the motives of white liberals and trust them instead. We’ve been watching our backs for over 400 years. We know what we’re doing, and we don’t need the help of transparent propaganda from people who would just as soon send us back to Africa if they could, since our lives don’t matter to them.

be about it

I’m at the point where I pretty much hate all forms of patriotism. Like, I see an American flag hung conspicuously on the outside of someone’s home and think to myself, they are either a grateful immigrant or they’re one of those white people who care more about red-scare-era symbolism than about the freedom of speech. I mean, outside of the Fourth of July, Veterans’ Day, or Memorial Day, I’m out here side-eyeing every flag I see. I don’t own an American flag and I won’t be buying one. I’m not saluting no American flag. I’m not dressing my kids in red-white-and-blue. I’m not putting my hand over my heart for nothing. I’m not singing for God to bless this country for its own sake.

It has nothing to do with disrespect for our professed ideals or for veterans or first responders. I will never forget, for example, the selfless bravery of the soldiers who fought to preserve the Union and free enslaved people, or the sacrificial courage first responders displayed during the 9/11 tragedy. I am the child of a veteran, the grandchild of a man who volunteered to serve this country after the Pearl Harbor attacks. I believe in the genius of the Bill of Rights and a living Constitution. I will never forget the pride I had for my fellow Americans on the night Barack Obama won the highest elected office in this land. Great things are possible here. There is a reason why immigrants come here. I am proud of what my ancestors’ labor has built here. The ideals of America are inspiring and beautiful. In these dark days, I don’t know if I’ll live to see my country actually realize them, but I truly believe they are right and good.

My profound distaste for patriotism has nothing to do with protesting police brutality, either. I did and do support Colin Kaepernick sitting and kneeling, Malcolm Jenkins raising a fist, and the many other athletes and other public figures who have used their platforms to call attention to the country’s shortcomings. I have no such platform, however. My refusal to fly or salute or display the flag accomplishes nothing in the way of bringing attention to the issue, and there are other ways that I can express my solidarity with others who are concerned about bias in policing.

But what I have noticed since the Colin Kaepernick protests and all their aftermath is that displays of patriotism have become  a more visible way for people to agitate for a status quo that supports white supremacy by misdirecting people away from addressing race-related problems. That is, of course, why 45 inserted himself in the the NFL’s little PR problem. He and his constituency used patriotism to hijack the conversation away from the reason for the protests. They see a wealthy black man exercising his first amendment right to express his feelings and they want to put him in his place. They exalt patriotism to a virtue, and then excoriate people based on their choice to opt out of “virtuous” behavior. They see unpatriotic black people – especially wealthy ones – as ungrateful for the good life they’re living that is better than some struggling white folks. There’s nothing worse to people who believe in white supremacy than an ungrateful darkie. They figure the least we can do is thank them from rescuing us from the poverty, disease, and awfulness of Africa, and the least we can do is sing America’s praises, especially if we’re not trapped in one of the ghettos that was created for us by de jure Jim Crow or de facto redlining. When some black person has the audacity to believe that the first amendment is theirs to embrace and that they can call the status quo into question or speak truth to power, white supremacists lose their collective shit. (Hence the NFL’s recent ruling that players must stand for the anthem at games.)

My understanding is that the pledge of allegiance and standing for the anthem in public sporting events is Red Scare bullshit imposed upon Americans by leaders who wanted to propagandize the American public into loyalty against socialism and communism. My understanding is that there was no such social obligation when the republic was formed. My observation is that there is absolutely no reason for displays of patriotism or the pledge of allegiance at any sporting events any-fucking-way. My observation is that this whole military parade, celebration of country, deport them if they don’t show loyalty rhetoric coming from D.C. is more like North Korea or the U.S.S.R. than it is like the United States of America I was raised in. My opinion is that, “If you don’t like it, leave,” sounds a lot like, “Go back to Africa,” just like how “Make America great again,” sounds a lot like, “Segregation now, segregation forever.” “Build the wall,” sounds a lot like, “No bussing,” to me. And I am not here for it. It’s propaganda and it’s bullshit. I will not take part in the mob mentality of shaming people over not being patriotic enough. That’s exactly the freedom my many military family members have protected with their service. Bending to demands to show my appreciation for that freedom waters down the very thing that they’ve sacrificed for, and I won’t do it.

True power and confidence and love of country is lived, not shouted. As was said in the America that I am from, “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” I am over here actually living the ideals of the country these racists are out here professing to love. I pay my taxes, I follow the laws, I volunteer to be useful to someone other than myself. I give to causes that further the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for other Americans – and not just English-speaking people. I vote in every general election. I report for jury duty. I hold the door open at Wawa. I try to treat people the way I’d want to be treated. The fuck I need to honor a flag for? I honor this country’s people. Fuck the symbolism, embrace what the symbolism symbolizes – the American people. If you’re out here worrying about what athletes are doing on the field instead of what the pompous head of the executive branch is doing to American credibility and leadership on the world stage, with his authoritarian and white supremacist temper tantrums, you’re focused on the wrong way to make this country great, and you can kiss the blackest part of my ass for your part in turning this country from  a moral leader on the world stage into a modern day adaptation of the 1984 novel.

And oh yeah, GO EAGLES!