The forever relevant, ever-lasting Common has been secretly making great music this year and releasing it on his Soundcloud. An earlier result was his remix of Solange's "Cranes In The Sky," which featured Common's signature candor and longing. But now he's dropped an album. The project, his 11th, is aptly titled Black America Again and features the kind of production by Kareem Riggins and Robert Glasper that's worth your listen.
The short film is a healthy 21 minutes, but if you can find the time, you'll find yourself enriched in a way that will stick with you for a time afterward.
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We love diversity, but it's not always represented in our mainstream mediums. “United we stand” is a popular American slogan that we hear quite often, but we don’t always finish the quote… “Divided we fall.”
Here at Blavity, we collaborate with all kinds of content creators from different backgrounds. We believe everyone’s experience is unique and everyone has a story to tell. We are black and do not apologize for it, but we also identify ourselves as American.
We asked the Creative Society to challenge the status quo and share all the reasons why we are America too.
Valerie Robinson (@unapologetic_us)
I am America too because this nation has been built off the backs of my ancestors. Hard work is engrained in our roots and we can rewrite the ending to our own stories. My contributions to society will one day create a legacy that will span generations as I make it a priority to revisit often what gems I wish to leave here on this earth and tackle generational curses. Although we are standing on the shoulders of giants, it is important to do our parts and not waste any of our God-given talents and the opportunities afforded to us. “The time is always right to do what is right.” I don’t take any of that, the paved paths or my unique voice for granted. If nothing else, I strive everyday to leave things BETTER than they were the day before.
“There is no such thing as I can’t, only I won’t… and that is unacceptable” - Anonymous
Rhonna Wade (@rhonnawade)
I am America too because my family came to America looking for the same opportunities others' families did. I know I am more than capable and able to contribute to the bettering of the society as a whole and I cannot not let those who are afraid of change stop me.
“We may not have it all together but together we have it all.” - Anonymous
Thomas C. Knox (@datewhileyouwait)
I am America too based on the Constitution and my freedom of speech. I am able to develop my own American dream, giving me the ability to reconstruct the values it’s built on. I can speak freely and create a journey that allows me to challenge right from wrong, which gives me the opportunity to inspire and encourage future generations to continue the work that those before us have done to build a unified nation.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” - Gandhi
Georgette Pierre (@georgette)
I am America too because my siblings and I were able to live better lives due to the sacrifices my parents made moving to this country. I’m able to do things and live things my parents never imagined possible or knew existed. For that, I am mindful of the mark that I leave on this world by seeking to live my purpose, doing my best to empower and speak up for those that may feel discriminated against. Also acknowledging my ancestors that came before me to make this life possible for myself and others.
“There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do.” - Freya Star
Brandon E. Miller (@thatguybmills)
I am America too because my ancestors are firmly rooted in the foundation that supports America. Like vines, my family’s contributions are woven into the history that defines America. And I, like you, continue to plant the seeds that once cultivated, will feed tomorrow’s America. I have faith that the American Dream will be what it used to be; regardless of what we look like, where we come from, how we think or how we live.
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” – Anonymous
Alicia Davis (@cubiclesandcurls)
I am America too because my parents came to this country for a better life and to give me more opportunities. I've worked hard to get everything I have and then some -- a good education, a job I enjoy and extra satisfaction from side endeavors. My history is American history and my struggle was born and can only be addressed by America.
“Think globally, act locally” - Patrick Geddes
Jon Lowe (@jlowe594)
I am America too because I was born and raised here, but it goes beyond that. Being American is not just about your document papers, but more about how you live your life, how you fight for equal rights, how you contribute to making this country greater, and how you vote to secure our country’s future. I am an American, but I am also an African-American.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” - Mark Twain
I am America too because I was raised in the burbs, went to a high school that was less than 1% black, attended 99% black HBCU Morehouse College, went to Stanford University for grad school, love hip hop, folk music, alternative rock, and R&B, play basketball and acoustic guitar, and often ask what IPA the local bars have on tap. I am unapologetically black, and a complex fusion of cultures and diverse experiences that are uniquely American. I am America because I am diversity and diversity makes America what it is.
Quote: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” - Matthew 6:33
Nic (@niktrition + @thefleektox)
I am America too because I embrace that America is all that is the Western Hemisphere; cognizant that this expands beyond the boundaries of what has been established as the United States of America. Being American is not about boundaries and limitations, but about enlightenment formed through the experience of globalization. The same globalization that warranted its founding and continues to emancipate those shackled by limited opportunity and rights. I am America too.
“Think Globally, Act Locally” - Patrick Geddes
Marqueeda LaStar (@lastargotnext)
I am America too because we are a nation of individuals that love our communities and ride for our chosen tribes. We champion our freedom to live as we choose. To be both bold and darling. To never stop reaching, growing or evolving. We live enriched lives due to these choices, challenges, tireless dedication to self-improvement, building a better tomorrow and the resulting diversity of expression. Our differences compliment our common ground. In Tim Curry fashion, I ask, What is light without darkness? I live to completely realize and help others embrace the untapped power and potential that lies within our differences. I love my weird and yours.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” -Audre Lorde
So... What does America mean to YOU?
Spread the word. Post your own self-portrait on Twitter or Instagram and tell us why YOU are America too. Make sure to tag @Blavity using the hashtag #IAmAmericaToo.
Learn more about the Creative Society.
Talk more about this with us on Thursday, November 3rd at 12pm PT | 3pm ET on Twitter.
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New York's been in a slump by New York standards for a while. There's the occasional breakout crew or the singular phenom, but either they sound like they're from somewhere else or they're going to jail on racketeering charges. I've got a few theories why. New England culture is blue blood at its core. That is, it tends toward WASPy, traditionalist stances. Deadass. So New York hip-hop hasn't kept up, so to speak, with the hyper-melodic warble rappers or the post-hyper-masculine emcees of the South or the West. Tag in Young M.A., who people are excited about because she's managed to be both lyrical and populist, a feat that's eluded the typical New York emcee over the past 15 years.
There's her viral hit "Ooouuu," which has been heating up the Billboard charts and grabbing her attention from the likes of Queen Bey and Rolling Stone among others. It has also cemented her as New York's it emcee of the moment. Music journalism is in a frenzy, so desperate are we for a New Yorker to join the ranks of the continually coverable. But way before Beyoncé put M.A.'s infectious hit on her Instagram, the young Brooklyn native had been grinding to make a name for herself. It's a coming-of-age story that should be inspiring to folks. She had to try on other identities and hide her sexuality from others to fit in before she let herself shine. She couldn't really do college, working retail for enough dough to grab studio time. She says she was inspired by one of the most notorious names in hip-hop, 50 Cent, one of the few New York rappers of the new millennium to achieve stardom. In fact, only six New York artists have gone platinum since Y2K. Only two have gone platinum since 2010 and one of those rappers is Jay Z.
You can really do whatever you want
But forget the plaques. Young M.A isn't just important to New York hip-hop, she's important to hip-hop as a whole. The industry has a long, checkered history of forcing people whose sexuality lay somewhere on the spectrum to act perfectly hetero-normative. An example might be Da Brat, whose change from baggy gear and kicks to push up bras and bikinis threw some people for a loop. This isn't to say that clothing is a direct indicator of sexuality. It is, though, a mode of expression governed by the edicts of a society that says how it feels. Da Brat has publicly stated that she'd never answer the question of her sexuality, that she'd prefer it remained a mystery for mystery's sake. Rightfully so. It's her choice, and at the time, hip-hop was still an "is you is or is you ain't" mono-culture. But that's been changing over the past couple of years, little by little.
Narrow definitions are crumbling
Famously, Macklemore recorded his hit 2012 record "Same Love," the song that would become the de-facto anthem of Obama's push for same-sex marriage, with a child in mind. He told the ACLU, "I read this story of this kid, he was bullied and he eventually killed himself. He was 13 or 14 years old." He took the song to his producer, Ryan Lewis, but Ryan sent him back to the drawing board, telling him that he needed to find the words from his own perspective. The song was a breakout hit, and together with "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us," he took home the Best Rap Album Grammy award.
That same year, Angel Haze -- a Detroit emcee -- released Reservation EP. Pitchfork gave the album an 8.0, saying, "Haze is the latest in [a] line of artists redefining the image of rap, but that's not to say that [Haze has] abandoned (or is above) rapping for rapping's sake." That EP held the growing promise of a rap, R&B marriage that was already taking hold after Drake's Take Care released in 2011. These shifting definitions of music, where genre became less important than emotive soothsaying, are the crumbling rock of narrow, puritan-like identities.
A new hip-hop
That isn't to say that hip-hop hasn't had its fair share of other genre-benders. Andre 3000 is a famous example whose grass skirts, turbans and make-up showed his free-thinking. It's women, though, who have typically had to deal with rigidity along those lines, keeping their identities secret for fear that no one would listen to what they had to say.
Back to Young M.A. — She is clear about her identity, and she doesn't want it to define her. It shouldn't. Her rise and fall as an emcee have nothing to do with what some Vice President thinks. It rests assuredly in her own hands, or so I'd like to think. The relative quietness with which she's been able to exist in the game today is pretty great. Maybe it means hip-hop is growing up a bit, becoming more inclusive all the while. Maybe now people can be whoever they want to be, and we can enjoy the music.
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In school and in the newsroom, journalists are always taught to eliminate bias from stories. We're told we can’t have an opinion, or that our opinion should not be apparent in our writing. That is good advice for a few reasons: one, readers are a journalist’s currency/validation. If we run our readers away because of our strong opinions, we've lost our credibility as journalists (or at least that’s what they say). Two: it's our job to report the news and let the readers form an opinion.
Many journalists say they abide by those rules and claim they aren’t biased. But I think keeping your opinion out of your own stories wouldn’t be human. To pretend you don’t have an opinion would be lying to readers, and lying to yourself.
As a black journalist, I find these rules even more problematic. When black men get shot by white police, I can’t have an opinion. When black women are abused by white police, I can’t retweet on Twitter or share my feelings on Facebook. No, I don’t expect to be able to rant and rave on social media platforms—because that is neither helpful to the issue nor professional—but I do believe I should be able to express my opinion in an honest, tactful way.
Though black journalists can't express their opinions with the public, they're expected to report on the issue. This is especially true if they're one of the few black journalists in the newsroom (which is often, but that’s another story for another day). Black journalists are expected to go into interviews with sources as if they're neutral, as if the violence against black bodies doesn’t bother them.
This turns into a conflict of personal identity. When working as a journalist, one is expected to first look at themselves as such. One's race, gender, sexual orientation and other ways they might identify come second—and most of the time the rest of their identities might not matter at all. As journalists, they're expected to put their job title first and push every other identifier to the side.
The problem with this expectation is: I am a black journalist. I can't separate my blackness from my work, as I'm usually expected to. I can't separate my blackness from any part of me because, if we’re being honest, I am black first and everything else follows. When I'm in the field, I'm not looked at as just a reporter, I'm looked at as the black reporter. When I'm searching for a job, I'm not just a job candidate, I'm the black job candidate.
So when it's time to approach a story of black tragedy, which is often, I should be able to express my opinion—whether it be through a column, a commentary, a Facebook post, a Tweet or an Instagram post. I should be able to express my agreement with Colin Kaepernick through my stories. I should be able to let readers know how outraged I am about the courts thinking that Sandra Bland’s $1.9 million settlement is justice. After reading my stories, I want readers to know what side I lean toward and who/what I am standing by.
I am not just a journalist. When other races look at me, they first see my blackness, not my journalistic skills or stories or accomplishments. So, as the world of journalism and media is evolving, the rules should do the same. Let’s allow journalists to be honest, and human, first. Let’s allow black journalists to be just that—black.
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We had the opportunity to talk to Kandyse McClure during DragonCon this year. McClure is best known for her role as Anastasia Dualla on Syfy’s 2004 TV series, Battlestar Galactica. But her IMDB is full of great projects since then, too. Check out our conversation, which covered character stereotypes, black people in sci-fi, and what’s next for her.
Blavity: For you doing the Sci-Fi genre (you did it with Battlestar Galactica) how was that? Because oftentimes we're talking about Sci-Fi it's all about suspending the disbelief. But when you have black bodies, particularly black women bodies and those spaces, they're like "now that doesn't make sense!" They can’t get past that point. So how was it being in that space and acting in that space?
Kandyse McClure: I'd have to say, on the set of Battlestar [Galactica], it was sort of a non-issue. Edward James Olmos made it very clear to the writers and the executive producers that this would always be a diverse show. And that no matter what they did, they had to maintain that diversity. Obviously classism still exists and we saw that in the different colonies. But within each colony, people were very diverse.
I feel like it gravitated toward and had success within the sci-fi and thriller genres because it is this future time where the politics and the issues of current day are suspended. It creates a platform for people to be able to discuss really uncomfortable things because they can say "oh well, in the future..." and they don't sort of have to take responsibility for their opinions about it right now.
And you can criticize certain aspects of it just even as a woman, never mind a woman of color. That if you're powerful you have to be sexualized. Or it’s like if you're dark skinned you have to kick ass and if you're light skinned you have to be dainty. Whatever it is. But I think Battlestar [Galactica] in particular was able to blur a lot of those lines within the female cast. I mean my character, I had some sweet romantic moments later on. But even in those, I mean, I remember my first sexual scene. I'm getting out of bed, you know, with Apollo. And I leave him lying there. I've got to go to work. I get up and I put my clothes on and I'm gone.
I don't think it was like a conscious thing necessarily like "we're going to go against the grain!" But it was just this story is powerful enough. We don't have to add on all these gimmicks to try and catch our audience because we don't believe that they'll watch us.
Blavity: What I like about what you said is trusting the audience because oftentimes it’s an excuse, saying, "Oh, they won’t get it," or, "They won’t understand that," so we have to keep it as the same and we don’t progress forward. I think it’s very much a cop out when you’re talking about progressing the acting and the storyline forward, by doing that.
KM: It's one of my greatest pet peeves in this industry. They try and sell you this line about how the audience isn't "ready for it." I was told once there's not going to be an interracial lead. This character is not going to have a girl of color, because the audience isn't ready for it. Or if you have certain number of ethnicities, doesn't even have to be one kind, but a group then it becomes an ethnic show. And exactly that, it's a cop out. I think it's a cop out. I think the best shows have respect for their audiences and believe them to be intelligent and capable.
Blavity: Are you still filming in Mexico for Persons Unknown?
KM: No, gosh that was ages ago! That was so fun. Too bad about that show. It did not get picked up. You know, oftentimes just because the show is amazing doesn't mean it gets renewed. That character was so far outside the box of anything that I had ever played and I got to try some really fun things with it. Sort of physically and that kind of stuff. And then living in Mexico for months, that didn’t suck at all. Such high hopes for that show, but on to the next.
Blavity: So what are you working on now? What's next down the pipeline for you?
KM: I did the thing that nobody should ever do but when you come off a great show. I came off Hemlock Grove and then I decided to kind of change tracks in a way. I wanted to explore some of the other aspects of the work. I also just wanted to do some living for myself. I've been an actor for eighteen years, it’s all I did and my whole life was that. And I wanted to just go be a person. Have a relationship, travel to different places, look at other parts of the work.
So I started producing on a really low level. It's a lot of work, and I cannot call myself a producer, I'm not registered or anything, but I've got a couple things on my belt. I started doing more independent film, just things with more of a message. Amazing group of people. All women: Writer, director, camera person, producers on the last film I worked on. It's called Moving Parts by Emilie Upczak. It's talking about trafficking through the Caribbean, so that'll be coming out [at] festival[s] next year. I've gotten in touch with some amazing South African directors, working on an experimental film coming up in the year. And I'm producing an environmental documentary with some friends of mine about litter.
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Many African-Americans are searching for their African identity by traveling to Africa and the diaspora. But is it too late to reconnect?
In July 2015, President Barack Obama embarked on a historic trip to Africa — becoming the first sitting American president to not only address the African Union, but also the first president to visit Kenya and Ethiopia. Although last year’s trip was Obama’s fourth tour of sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, his visit to Kenya specifically rendered a more commemorative, ancestral sentiment — as the country is the birthplace of Obama’s father, Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. At this point, the unique story of President Obama’s familial lineage is all too familiar to not only the American public, but to the world. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was a white American woman of Irish descent born in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She later married Kenyan national, Obama Sr. at the age of 18, while she was pregnant. Dunham and Obama, Sr. met during a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii.
Throughout the course of his campaign trails and presidency, Obama has continuously acknowledged the profound impact his mother had on his life, and how through her successes, sorrows and struggles, she was the person who influenced him most. It was a sight to see, as Obama, in a jam-packed Nairobi gymnasium with thousands of Kenyans excitedly chanting his name, pridefully affirmed the other inescapable aspect of his ancestry — his African heritage.
“I’m the first Kenyan-American president to be president of the United States. That goes without saying,” Obama said to the jubilant crowd.
And although Obama is no prince — unlike Prince Akeem, Eddie Murphy’s comedic character in the 1988 film Coming to America — his visit to Kenya was surely a royal affair. The first African-American president of the United States would return to his father’s native land in 2015 to have his ‘coming to Africa’ experience. From my eyes, Obama was home.
A year from Obama’s visit to Kenya, this past July, I would finally have my ‘coming to Africa’ experience. I traveled to Tanzania and Uganda. As a black American woman visiting the continent for the first time, I was scared. And no, I was not fearful of the stereotypical rhetoric, such as war, famine and poverty, which historically and contemporarily in academics, politics and media alike, has encapsulated the continent and thus attempted to render it and its people inferior. No, my apprehension stemmed from the fact that I was finally visiting a continent that I was intrinsically tied to, where my ancestral inheritance stems from; a stolen and unknown piece of me that I so desperately, through my education, writings, conversations, and even my socio-political stances, tried so hard to return to — to reclaim.
And upon my arrival to Tanzania, I could not shake this holistic feeling as if I were home. Or was I?
There is an inescapable, elemental void for many African-Americans, who are in search of finding their “African identity” — a semblance of some sort of cultural relativism, political ideology and even spiritual connectivity to the continent. Like myself, not knowing the nuances of my African ancestral and hereditary ties, it takes more than just a simple payment on Ancestry.com to fill this longing to understand the proverbial, black existential meaning of what it truly means to be an African in the Afro-Diasporic paradigm. Like W.E.B. DuBois explored in the 1903 publication The Souls of Black Folk, there is an internal divisiveness which manifests in the African-American; a “double-consciousness” of “two warring ideas” in understanding what it means to both black and American in a society which the egregious onslaught of chattel slavery was the racist catalyst that undergirds the foundation of our citizenship. There is a daily angst – and even psychological turmoil – of comprehending that for the African-American, American citizenship and access to its amenities came at the expense of physical and cultural genocide of enslaved black bodies, while the fundamental bedrock of American nationalism is reserved for whiteness and the maintenance of white American cultural aestheticism.
In the context of searching for and reclaiming African identity, many African-Americans invest in uncovering their ancestral state prior to forced assimilation and by attempting to lift the “veil;" a concept in which DuBois references as not only the blurred perception of how whites see blackness, but how African-Americans in turn see themselves, outside of how white America has described and ascribed us to be. So in efforts to try to find ourselves and tear down the “veil,” many, in search of our African selves, attempt to literally and figuratively go home.
We take African-based language classes. Don African attire and clothing, such as dashikis and kaftans, and wear our hair in natural styles. Attend historically black colleges and universities, which extend their academic curriculum to that of Afro-political ideologies and philosophies, such as Black Studies, African-American History, African and Africana Studies. In this process, we unlearn single-story educational narratives which so ubiquitously uphold white supremacist idealism. We listen to music of the Diaspora, and we assert and insert African Diasporic solidarity messages and elements within music genres such as hip-hop and rap — just as Kendrick Lamar did during the 58th Grammy Awards in February, when he emblazoned the words of his hometown of Compton, California in the middle of map of the African continent. Many reject Christianity and render it as a tool of “the oppressor,” and thus convert to traditional, indigenous African religions such as Ifá. We look to our historical predecessors, like Marcus Garvey, who advised us, in Pan-African fashion, to “go back to Africa” and take stake in what is “ours.” And many African-Americans like Imahkus Okofu, a native New Yorker who left for Ghana, go back and make Africa our home.
But can we really go back? Can we really reclaim “African identity” or are African-Americans too far gone to rekindle socio-economic and political kinship to Africa?
Many African-Americans, like myself, have been criticized within and outside of our communities for our intense racial and genealogical romanticism with the African continent. Just as Dr. Jon Michael Spencer proposed in his 1992 article ‘Blacks’ Romanticism with Africa,' “there is little doubt that Africa–as many African-Americans know it–[indeed as the world knows it], is partly an ‘invention’ evolving from emotional and ideological sources.” In our quest to revivify a purposefully dimmed African perspective and persona, some forget that “shared complexity does not guarantee racial solidarity,” as journalist Tracie Reddick’s article in The Tampa Tribune reads. Our romantic inclination for the continent might be steeped in stereotypical notions of African cultural and political traditionalism, unrealistic fictive kinship ties and Western ethos.
I watched President Obama make a speech in his father’s birthplace — what I thought was home for him — but that maybe wasn't home for him either. He, too, as the first black president of the United States, has an estranged relationship with his African identity, as his father would later disappear from his life a few years after he was born. Questions left unsaid and customs untold, in spite of investment in the cultural, artistic, scientific and philosophical African presence, still might not be enough to access an African selfhood.
Although Spencer acknowledges “there is something romantic and perfectly legitimate about reconciling a severed relationship with the homeland of one’s recent ancestry,” here, at this stage, I can't call Africa, my home.
During my time in Uganda, I visited a friend’s village in Busia, not too far from the Kenyan border. Upon meeting me, his first encounter with a black-American, he paused and looked at me intently and said, “Wow, you look like me.” From that observation, I realized my ‘coming to Africa’ experience in the age of Obama is more than just finding my quintessential, African heritage. It's recognizing that although I can't call Africa home, I can hold stake in knowing I'm an extension of a continent that's rich in resources, cultures and history, but too, just like any other place, is riddled in its own internal and external issues. There is power in knowing that across continents and cultures, there are people who look like me. And as Obama’s presidency comes to an end, the symbolism of having a president and a first family that also look like me, has been all the more paramount.
All in all, in the face of racial injustice and racialized state violence, I can rest assured in my “two-ness” and that my position as a black American will never be in vain; for it's because of my African ancestors, who fought and died for freedom on all fronts, that I can identify with being American and African.
“I stand before you as a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of an African,” President Obama said during his speech to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“Africa and its people helped to shape America and allowed it to become the great nation that it is,” he continued.
“Africa and its people helped shape who I am and how I see the world.”
Jaimee A. Swift is a Washington, D.C. based journalist, who is passionate about social justice. Her works have been featured in various outlets including The Huffington Post, Salon.com, For Harriet, and Blavity. She is currently a PhD student at Howard University, studying the intersections of race, gender, and politics of the Afro-Brazilian Women’s Movement. You can follower her on Twitter @JaimeeSwift
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With the official start of another academic year here for college students, I am reminded of how the last couple of years began. I proudly serve as the director of the Black Cultural Center at a predominantly white institution, supporting student organizations and activities while also helping students navigate campus and craft individualized success plans to meet their varying aspirations.
In August of 2014, rather than the usual welcome back routine, I was working with a coalition of student leaders and facilitating a town hall on Ferguson. In 2015, we critically questioned all of the details surrounding Sandra Bland’s death while in police custody, wondering why, if she was changing lanes to get out of a police car’s way, would that officer escalate the situation, violate protocol and later lie about it. This year, we return to campus with the names Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Korryn Gaines and Paul O’Neal on our minds, haunted by deeply troubling images of injustice.
Students on my campus, like so many others across the country, have taken up this cause for numerous important reasons. Some hail from communities where the presence and practices of police are far from comforting. Some have personal stories of being detained without probable cause and being dehumanized in that process. Students fear for their safety and that of relatives and loved ones and friends who are simply trying to get to tomorrow in a world producing an ever-growing list of things you can’t do while being black.
This mirrors sentiments students often have in response to their experiences on campus. When students feel marginalized, excluded, ignored and othered, they understand that the Black Lives Matter hashtag isn't just about life and death, but every lived experience that can be reduced and devalued. This reality multiplies at the intersections; today's black LGBTQ communities, black women, black Muslims, and black undocumented populations, among others, face significant daily challenges.
The Frederick Douglas quote reminds us that without struggle there is no progress, but one has to wonder how challenging it must be to mobilize around #BlackLivesMatter when you have an exam the next day. And although some campus-based activism has been multicultural, and some students have stood up as allies and supporters, it's often the case that black students grapple with the dual dismissal of marching alone while being told from the sidelines that “all lives matter.” That’s the well-meaning feedback. Other trolling comments in campus-based online periodicals and social media sites move out of the bounds of micro-aggression and into the realm of good ol’ American racism.
So what can you do to not only get through the semester, but achieve all of the success and experiences that you imagined, while also fighting for freedom and justice? Here are five suggestions:
1. Revisit Jesse Williams every few days or so.
I posted on Facebook after his BET Awards speech that if anyone wants to speak with me about race, they’ll have to read the transcript first. I meant this. I have it printed on the wall in my office.
2. Have your graphics ready. Share them freely, because the receipts don’t lie.
3. Assemble your crew.
Have people in your circle and places you can go where you don’t have to explain yourself. (If you can get Dave in your crew, you’re more than good.)
4. Connect to the broader coalition work.
You and your campus are not alone in the struggle. Review, share and join efforts such as Campaign Zero and A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, and Justice.
5. Change the narrative.
Ask your potential allies how the #AllLivesMatter movement is working out for them, and if they really feel like they are making a difference. Challenge them to come up with a list of five things they can do to play a bigger role. (May I suggest, starting with the Jesse Williams transcript, which includes (spoiler alert!) the following: “If you have a critique for the resistance—for our resistance—then you’d better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest… If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”)
In closing, prioritize balance, self-care and #BlackExcellence. Invest in your brilliance, using all of the resources and opportunities available to you. When possible, connect your activism to the classroom, incorporating policy analyses, transformative program proposals and other social-justice-based research. This can cover economics and business, healthcare, education, global development, politics, apps and coding, literature, history, language, genetics, philosophy, theater arts… basically any and everything in your course catalog. Own your experience, get your degree and be the change!
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It was August 9th, 2016 when my girlfriend and I walked hand in hand down Canfield Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri. It was the two-year anniversary of the death of Mike Brown, and the two year anniversary of the following events that would change both of our lives forever. Her and I both grew up in Florissant, Missouri, a mere five minute drive from where the bulk of the protests, tear gassing and overall chaos took over the typically quiet St. Louis suburb two summers ago. For months at a time, we lived on the edge as tanks rolled through the streets and news crews swarmed through our backyards and neighborhoods.
The two of us approached the Canfield apartment buildings that overlooked the street and a sizeable collection of teddy bears and flowers. We each held a rose in our hand to place amongst the endless amassment of trinkets and “We love you Mike,” post cards. I remember clutching onto the flower so tight, attempting to swallow away the lump that had been forming in my throat since I parked my car a few blocks away. My palm was bright red by the time we finally made it to the center of the residential street.
My girlfriend turned to me and gave a slight smile before pulling me closer so that I could rest my head on her shoulder. I closed my eyes for a moment and truly processed the fact that I was standing next to the last place that Mike Brown ever walked. The moment was heavy; like many St. Louis residents, I was still struggling to come to terms with everything that happened two years prior. Visiting Canfield Ave was a way for me to show my respects to Mike while also gaining more closure about the entire situation. It’s been a process, as I sometimes still have dreams and memories of being tear gassed on North Florissant Ave, but I’ve slowly gotten closer to a sense of peace and normalcy.
Then, I felt my girlfriend tense up beside me. I snapped out of my trance and spun my head around, finally truly noticing the scenery around me. Other than the posters, the flowers and the stuffed animals were also dozens of sets of eyes. Staring. Directly at us. Old eyes, young eyes, curious eyes, angry eyes: All from other people of color. An older black woman made a face at me while slowly shaking her head in disapproval while muttering under her breath. A group of young black men a few yards away were staring at the two of us, making gestures and pointing.
I became acutely aware of the fact that I was wrapped up in my girlfriend’s arms, and that people could see us in plain view.
Not everyone was happy to see me there, very black and very obviously queer.
My reflex was to push my girlfriend away — to create distance and create the illusion that we were only friends, maybe even cousins. But I couldn’t do that. I, like the rest of my city, was mourning on that day. I needed to be wrapped up tight, to be comforted and to feel love on the anniversary of such a terrible day. I didn’t need a friend or a cousin to stand a safe, platonic, distance away from me. I needed my girlfriend, no matter how radical or unorthodox it seemed to have been.
I’d felt a barrage of emotions that day; angry at the events of 2014, sad that Mike was gone, hopeful for positive change in my city. Suddenly though, as I stood frozen in the street with my girlfriend beside me, I felt frustrated and overall fed-up with my own people for making me feel unwelcome and anxious in a moment of healing and closure. As a local who’d seen and experienced the madness of St. Louis in fall 2014, I felt as if I'd earned the right to make the short pilgrimage to Canfield Ave to show my respects, as I had the two years prior. Like others gathered around me, I had returned to this street to gain closure and to help preserve the memory of a fallen neighbor. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel a sharp pain in my heart as more and more disapproving glances were being thrown my way. It felt like disappointment from the same community that I marched beside two years prior, running home through smokey streets and helping one another get tear gas out of our eyes. Yet it seemed like when the sun came out and the rubber bullets stopped flying, the underlying bigotry toward the LGBT community would ruin any chance I had of having a safe space to heal.
Which is a shame, because my community is a family that I would quite literally put my life on the line for. My girlfriend and I weren’t doing anything radical or even interesting. No rainbow flags or techno music. No picket signs or significant PDA. Just a warm embrace from one woman to another, at a time where we both needed it.
My girlfriend spoke out loud before I could.
“I can feel pretty uncomfortable around people of color sometimes,” she said. She looked down for a second. “Being openly queer, I mean.”
It struck me that she’d been thinking the exact thing on my mind. There’s an indisputable irony of feeling shut out by people of color, when we’re both women of color. Homophobia within my own community is something I’ve dealt with and witnessed my entire life, yet it’s not something that I’ll ever truly be numb to.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve felt disapproval or anger regarding my sexuality from my own community. It very well won’t be my last. But rather than write off my own black community as unsalvageably homophobic, I rather acknowledge the fact that we’ve made progress and that the work left to do is completely manageable. As much as I wanted to retreat back to my vehicle and zoom off into the sunset, we stayed long enough to pay our respects as we’d intended.
Intersectionality means that there will be moments when one identity clashes into another full force.
I’ve accepted that sometimes it’ll make me feel defeated and hopeless about acceptance in my own community. Other times, someone will give me a knowing smile to let me know that everything’s okay and that I’m welcomed in that space. I’ve also accepted that sometimes it will be my job to offer a smile or approving nod whenever I see another young queer woman of color walking around in spaces I’m occupying. Small gestures like that are what make the small difference between fear and intimidation, comfort and healing.
I challenge the black community to check their prejudices at the door, especially when it comes to times and places of healing. Like colorism and classism, homophobia is dangerous and divisive. As a black woman, I should feel comfortable enough to mourn with my own community without feeling like a nervous wreck with fear of being berated over my sexuality.
As the night wrapped up, my girlfriend and I walked hand-in-hand back to my car. We decided to make a quick stop at Walgreens; the same one that had been broken and tattered this time two years ago. The same shop that had been posted all over the news to show the chaos that had erupted in our hometown. The broken windows have since been replaced, the walls restored. The new shiny floors squeaked underneath my sneakers as we laughed and twirled our way through the aisles. She picked up a Slim Jim while I grabbed a bottle of sparkling water.
We stood in front of the young, eager cashier as he rang up our items. His fade was fresh, likely cut by one of the famous barbers in Ferguson. He looked up over his register a few times, trying his best to hold back a smile before finally cracking and showing his pearl-white teeth. I held my breath and prepared myself for whatever chauvinistic comment he was about to make about me and my girlfriend. My girlfriend held my hand, probably anticipating the same thing.
The cashier smiled, looked down, and mumbled under his breath. Finally he rose his head so that his brown eyes were staring back at mine.
“You two are cute as hell together,” he said, still grinning from ear to ear.
I could feel my girlfriend loosen her grip around my hand as she giggled and thanked the young man. For the first time at all that day, I was able to breathe.
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The other day, someone told me that they didn't care about the Black Lives Matter movement. So when I asked if they care about the killings of black people every single day, they literally told me, “no.” This, of course, infuriated me, which I expressed, but I went on to show them exactly why they need to care.
I said that it makes them incredibly ignorant, and someone who I don't want in my presence if they don't care. (To tell me this is to literally spit on the graves of all of my ancestors and every other black person’s ancestors, and on the thousands of lives lost due to police brutality, as well as the loved ones they left behind). Now, I'm not saying that police are the only ones killing black people, but there has been an unacceptable amount of police who abuse their power. This is a fact that can't continue to be ignored, but something that gets swept under the rug in many cases.
For more than two hours, me and this person sat side by side, and I brought up article after article showing them just how distorted their views were.
If this were two years ago, I would have been much less understanding, and my response might have been less than kind. Although I believe that my response would have been extremely justified in this context, I wanted and needed to take this as an opportunity to educate this clearly ignorant and lost person. To have them tell me that they had no idea that all of this was happening in our country, told me they lived under multiple rocks. This begs the question: How many more people simply “do not know?” How many more people are lost and in need of being shown the facts? How many people are turning a blind eye to the harsh realities that so many black people face in this country?
This person proceeded to tell me that I needed statistics to back up my claims, so I gave them a list of names of black people killed in America in 2016 alone, not to mention in previous years. To say that they were shocked would be an understatement, but I was asked to provide statistics, so that's exactly what I did. The truth is rarely pretty, but in this case, the truth is downright heartbreaking and dehumanizing, but it is a truth that I felt inclined to shed some light on.
Throughout our conversation, I was continually thanked. I was told that I was teaching them something, and that now they feel more aware of what's happening and what has been happening to black people for centuries.
I have to remind myself that what is common sense to me, might be difficult for another person to comprehend.
We exchanged stories of experiences with race throughout our rather short lives, seeing as we are both in our early 20s. This person told me that they once stole something from a store as a child, and that when they gave it back, the people who worked there were thankful, but they did not get in trouble. I said that as a black person, it would not have mattered what age you were, but that stealing something could have gotten you into more trouble than someone who was not black. Regardless. Of. Age. This comment left them speechless, but like I said before, the truth is rarely pretty.
This is obviously an important conversation that needed to be had.
This individual told me that they loved learning and being corrected when wrong, which was good for me, because I was literally spewing out information for hours. I could have kept going, but researching the thousands of stories of black people being killed for their blackness is inherently exhausting. It feels like this is a never ending cycle. I am tired. I am so tired. More than that, I am afraid of being black in this world where we are oppressed on a daily basis for no reason other than our blackness.
When you're black, to many people, no matter what you do and achieve, you will never be anything more than the color of your skin. This narrow-minded, bigoted viewpoint deeply saddens me, because the black people I know are doctors, artists, lawyers, business people and so much more. The black people I know are some of the most brilliant people I have ever known, but I know that the world as a whole doesn't see this.
I think being black in America is by far the bravest thing any of us has ever done and probably will ever do.
To be unapologetically black in a country that is not and has never been here for us and has a history of oppressing and killing us makes us warriors. All we can try to do is to educate those around us who aren't paying attention to what's happening all around us. When these moments arise, we have the power and the gift to inform and teach others. We have the power to make more people “woke” to all of the violence happening at the hands of people who are supposed to protect us. At the end of the day, if I can have more of these conversations, I feel like I'm doing right by someone. Because we matter. We matter so much.
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Working in Corporate America is difficult as a person of color, but it's made even more challenging by the fact that black death being constantly in the news and on our social media timelines. Colleagues either ignore this fact, take on the role of the sympathizer (much to the annoyance of many), or are blatantly insensitive to our plight. Still, you gotta get that paper. So how do you manage coping with working in what can feel like a hostile environment? Try these tips:
Intentionally inject black joy into your day
Whether it's lunch with your girlfriends or listening to your favorite artist, take time every single day at work to get your life with our beauty and brilliance. This will be a reminder that although we're dying, we're also living and slaying this life. It's one of the most beautiful methods for coping.
A lot of folks feel like they have to hold it all in until they clock out, but if you feel yourself reaching your limit, call somebody. Talking it out will help relieve some of the pressure you feel. If you have trusted allies on the job, book a conference room for a bit and let it out with them. Just don't hold it in.
Don't check the news at work
You might have an inclination to check your phone, read the news with your morning coffee and scroll down your Facebook timeline, but maybe you should limit your contact with what's happening outside of your job while you're there if it proves to be too much. You can check back in when you feel like you're in a safe space.
Advocate for cultural competency courses through your HR department
It's not your job to educate everyone about the black experience, but it is your place of employment's duty to create safe spaces for everyone from different backgrounds and with different life experiences. Although a lot of corporate gigs tout the term "diversity" as a shroud for their glib attitude toward actually creating diverse and caring workplaces, you can advocate for integrating cultural competency courses into orientation and especially management trainings.
Walk away from unpleasant conversations
Corporate America can be an incubator for uncomfortable (verging on inappropriate) conversations, especially around things such as race and class. The "curiosity" of some of your colleagues can cause them to start conversations you don't want to have with them. It's okay to walk away. Of course, don't just walk off mid-sentence, but saying "I'd rather not discuss this at work, if you'll excuse me" is totally appropriate. Coping with being corporate while black is difficult enough without having to navigate someone else's voyeurism into black pain. You don't have to do it.
How do you cope with these issues in the workplace? Let us know in the comments below!
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I live somewhere in the space between optimist and cynic. I've accumulated enough life experience to understand the rules by which society operates and still have sufficient hopefulness to really believe in our collective ability to change those rules if they aren't working. The only thing that validates social norms at any given moment is the willingness of the majority to participate.
Think about this — amongst a whole host of other antiquated absurdities, spousal abuse was totally acceptable just a few decades ago. Of course patriarchy is still real and domestic abuse still happens today, but not with the same wink and "atta boy" nod that it once had. What changed? A critical mass of the population changed their way of thinking. Once this happened, laws, attitudes and social agendas soon followed. Today, most people abhor the idea of domestic abuse, and I am confident that one day society will feign similar contempt over the blatant racial injustices so prevalent today.
Culture is constantly shifting, but never without the persistent nudge of courageous individuals who are bold enough to challenge the existing state of things. I am grateful for the Alicia Garzas, Jose Antonio Vargas, and Deray McKessons of the world. The movement requires work at every level.
Some people were raised to be socially conscious and others are just stepping into their awareness. Some have the fortitude to push from within established structures while others are best equipped to apply pressure from the outside. There are levels to this, but no matter where you fall on the activist spectrum, you have the capacity to effect change within your realm of influence.
If you feel that you are being nudged toward the work of social activism, here are a few things you can expect as you take your first baby steps down this path:
The wake-up call
1.You're really REALLY bothered
The first indication that you may be on the path toward activism is a keen sensitivity to the injustices all around you. No one enjoys oppression, but some people are able to deal with it or ignore it. You're not one of them. No matter how hard you try to adjust and accommodate the reality of pervasive injustice, you can't seem to wrap your head around quietly accepting social inferiority as your birth right.
2. You're tired
Keep your head down, focus on yourself and never, under any circumstances, mention race. You've been black your whole life, you know the rules. You understand that assimilation is your best chance at survival, but you've become increasingly weary of playing by these rules. You're starting to realize that the game is rigged.
3. You've had enough
Enough is enough! The injustice is so flagrant, so in-your-face disrespectful, you have to do something. At this point, the inner torment of being passive has officially outweighed the social consequence of working toward change.
4. The social bullying
So, let me get this straight...I can mourn terrorist attacks in Paris and be outraged about the inhumane treatment of animals, but if I express any level of discomfort regarding matters of racial injustice, it's a problem? This twisted logic is maddening and certifiably insane. Racism is real and the stiff societal consequences for demanding social justice is designed to intimidate you into inaction. Let no one convince you that advocating for justice is somehow wrong.
5. The opposition from within
The nature of oppression is so insidious that the oppressed are often its greatest defenders. Sometimes the most resistance will come from within. Whether or not everyone is in agreement with your activism, they will still enjoy the benefits of the progress for which you are pushing.
6. Internal conflict
You are going to go through periods of fatigue. The consequence of consciousness is real, but understand that whether you're advocating, marching, mentoring or using your art, progress is being made.
Set your strategy
7. Collect data
You don't need a case study to tell you what discrimination feels like, but institutions do. Trust your gut but gather your evidence.
8. Stick to the point
When it comes to presenting your case for change, be strategic in your approach. Don't be swayed by non-related arguments or diversionary tactics. Stick to the issue at hand.
9. Maintain perspective
With so much of your time and energy focused on what's wrong in the world, it can be easy to become overwhelmed and even depressed. The fact is that even with all the societal ills we're faced with, 80 percent of the worlds population would gladly switch places with you. Be sure to set aside dedicated time to count your blessings and focus on all the good in your life.
Although the concept of being woke and socially conscious is sexy at the moment, the actual work is far from glamorous. If you're feeling compelled to take action, don't be afraid to take baby steps and start where you are.
The transition into adulthood isn’t an easy one. Navigating relationships, managing workplace politics, hitting those milestones on schedule— don’t be fooled, no one knows what they’re doing. There will be all kinds of fumbles, blunders and awkward missteps along the way. If you’re constantly wondering to yourself, “Am I doing this right?” Welcome. This is just the place for you.
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Shad Moss, known to most as Bow Wow, had an interesting and confusing conversation recently on our timelines. It started out about politics and his choice not to vote. Then, it strayed into a discussion about a specific chain of luxury hotels, and somehow ended up somewhere in the vicinity of a visit to Ancestry.com.
The question was simple enough to start.
What did Shad learn about politics? What is this secret knowledge that he possesses? Whatever it is, we need to find it. His confidence is unbridled. Mr. Moss is absolutely sure that staying away is the best option.
Then things got strange.
Another fan implores Shad to think about the people who looked just like him that were denied the right he refuses to use. And his answer is interesting. Mr. Moss clearly lives his life by the laws of empiricism. If he cannot see it, he does not believe it. Therefore, history books and other such text mean nothing to him. He can neither confirm nor deny that his ancestors died for his right to vote.
Then comes this rebuttal & Shad's corresponding answer.
Even the masterpiece Selma, directed by the queen Ava DuVernay, based on real life events is not enough. Shad will not be swayed. In response, he makes sure to let us know that he is not related to anyone from Selma. He says that one side of his family is not black. His heritage is different.
Then he proceeds to explain just how different.
Shad Moss's position is clear. His cousins look like Justin Bieber. His grandmother looks like Betty White. His dad looks like a drunk Cuban with no rhythm. None of these things could add up in any way to him being a black man. It makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
He also wants you to know this.
There you have it – something you can actually see. Shad doesn't know about his ancestors. But he does know that this Trump guy builds a decent hotel. Thankfully, he's not sure about if he's fit to run the USA. But he's never seen it happen, and a man's got to live by a code. Am I right?
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