Reading Round Up, #BLM Edition, September 26, 2016

A special collection of recent writing on Black Lives Matter that I’ve been reading

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, always happy to sacrifice the welfare and rights of his state’s residents to the prejudices of the powerful, has decided that North Carolina’s police don’t have to share body camera footage with the public unless compelled to by the court. We would expect transparency to increase public confidence in the police, but that kind of assumes that the transparency would show us a police force that is serving and protecting, not controlling and terrorizing.

Speaking in North Carolina, Donald Trump said that “Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before.” That inanity compelled a rebuke from President Obama, directly from the floor of the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, who understatedly pointed out that both slavery and legalized segregation were pretty tough on black people.

The Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed Donald Trump for president, which makes one wonder about the relationships between the 30% of FOP officers who are people of color and their white peers. Philadelphia’s black officers are critical of the police union over the endorsement.

Unions, of course, have a long history of racism. Andrew Tillett-Saks explains “Why the Labor Movement Must Join the Anti-Racist Struggle to Make Black Lives Matter” in In These Times.

In an opinion piece in Ebony, author Lasha describes the “rancid taste of the cocktail of fragility, perpetual perceived innocence and self-centering” that usually informs her conversations with white women about race in her call for readers to recognize the role that white women play in violence against black men.

Awesomely Luvvie speaks directly to white people about our responsibilities:

White people. Yes, you. Even you nice ones. These things that are happening? These horrifying things that are happening to my people? They are because people who look like you, have set up a system of supremacy that flourishes…. White people, I’m talking to you. THIS. IS. YOUR. PROBLEM. TO. FIX. Y’all got some work to do, because this system that y’all keep on privileging from, you’ve got to help us dismantle it. Because those of us who are Black and Brown. We have tried. You created this robot, and it is yours to deactivate. My skinfolk don’t have the passcode. This is your monster to slay.

Sarah Watt’s “White Fragility is Real: 4 Questions White People Should Ask Themselves During Discussions of Race” gives some basic but useful advice for checking to see if precious white people are invoking white fragility in discussions of race. Of course, not getting defensive about racism is the least white people can do. Janee Watts offers some more concrete advice for white allies in Black Lives Matter, as does Luvvie.

Black activists work against police brutality against white people in LA and stand with water protectors in North Dakota.

In The Atlantic (thanks, Mom, for the subscription!), Ta-Nehisi Coates explains “What O.J. Simpson Means to Me,” arguing that Simpson most probably committed a horrific crime and then, face “the kind of treatment typically reserved for rich white guys.” Coates places the Simpson case in the context of Rodney King, Latasha Harlins, and rampant terrorism of people of color at the hands of the LAPD and asks us to think hard about class, race, and privilege in the legal system.

Writing for Those People, John Metta roots his argument about white people’s assumed superiority in a long, long history, one that begins before the slave trade. Now, 151 years after the 13th Amendment, he writes,

white people often carry prejudices about slavery without realizing it. That is why the white refrain of “slavery was a long time ago, get over it” falls on deaf Black ears. It’s not Black people holding on to slavery, it’s white people, carrying the prejudices in their culture.

In other words, black people aren’t the ones who “make everything about race”—white people are.

Turns out that we’ve known for a solid ten years that white supremacists are infiltrating the police force.

Vanity Fair reviews some of the studies on race and policing, and the results are, generally speaking, not all that surprising.

Recognizing the disproportionate policing of black people, the Massachusetts State Supreme Court has decided that “Black Men May Have a Legitimate Reason to Flee Police” and that fleeing alone cannot be construed as a sign of guilt. The Court writes:

[T]he finding that black males in Boston are disproportionately and repeatedly targeted for FIO [Field Interrogation and Observation] encounters suggests a reason for flight totally unrelated to consciousness of guilt. Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity.

Fusion, a pop culture site, has a quick and useful video out, “Police  Brutality Isn’t a New Problem. It’s the Same Old Problem,” that links current police brutality to a long history of white control of black bodies.

I’ve been both an English teacher who teaches soc and a soc prof who teaches poetry. I taught the police shooting of Amadou Diallo for years alongside Audre Lorde’s “Power.” (Thanks to my AP English teacher, Bill Lewis, now a professor at UDel, for making me memorize a poem my senior year and for letting me choose Lorde’s work for that project.) Bruce Springsteen wrote “American Skin (41 Shots)” in response to the Diallo shooting in 1999, winning an award from the NAACP for his work. He’s performing it on his current tour, and it occurs to me that I’ve taught a dozen new cases of police violence against people of color, including children of color (Trayvon Martin, Andy Lopez, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Philandro Castile, Tamir Rice, Keith Lamont Scott, Eric Garner, John Garner III, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray…) between the first and most current performances of that song.

A banner supporting Black Lives Manner was stolen from the Ecumenical Campus Ministries building at the University of Kansas. It was later returned—with a note of apology.

I’m proud of the open letter, “Do Not Be Silent,” that KU adminstrators from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” wrote in opposition to hate acts on campus and, specifically, their linking of anti-LGBT and anti-black biases. I’m even more proud that a disproportionate number of those who signed the document are or have been associated with American Studies, the department where I did my graduate work.


Poet Jonterri Gadson reading Lorde’s “Power.

On my reading list: The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots by Brenda Stevenson (Oxford 2015), Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, and Laura Martin’s Black Panther, William M. Tuttle’s Race Riot: Chicago in the Summer of 1919 (Illinois 1996), Luvvie’s I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual (Holt 2016), Ian Chaney Lopez’s Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class (Oxford 2015). I’m teaching Dog Whistle Politics in the next few weeks and am eager to see how my students respond to it. And Bill Tuttle’s book is on this list as a re-re-re-read for me. As a grad student, I was fortunate to take a class in African American history with Bill, and Race Riot blew me away, so I revisit it frequently. I can’t imagine writing a book that thoughtfully crafted, but it’s been the standard I use to measure the quality of research and writing in everything else I read. I grew tremendously as a writer from reading that book. And it’s a foundational text for understanding the history of racial violence in the US.



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