I Want My Country Back

I want my country back.

I want the country where “All My Relations” whether in Lakota, Hopi, Aztec, or Taino,  meant an expanded humanity that lived in kinship with other lifeforms as relatives, not resources.

That recognizes that all humans in particular, are relatives to be nurtured and cared for, not resources to be enslaved, exploited, or feared and hated. When you are the target of enslavement, exploitation, and terror that the solution to oppression, is to become more humane than your oppressors.

It’s partially the country that existed before 1491: Pyramid cities, intercontinental and interracial trade and commerce. Though slavery, and war were not unknown here before Columbus, we found ways towards democratic civilized resolution, through remembering our common strengths and gifts. Among those gifts were the insights given by those variously named two-spirits who brought us wisdom beyond binary gender, and physical / spiritual duality. Its not the country or culture that would build a Walmart outside those pyramids cities, nor that a US corporation could claim ownership of rainfall in Bolivia.

The country that came after that (whether 1492, or 1776) was predicated on certain types of violence. The targets were indigenous people and their demonstrated allies from other continents, which included historically respectful Europeans.  The country that practiced and practices massacres, lynchings, church burnings, concentration camps, and other forms of sociostructural violence, must fade into historical memory, before my country will emerge.

I asked Robert Kono, at the time, a local veteran (442nd) and survivor of the concentration camps, “Why would you fight for a country that incarcerated you because of your race, while allowing major corporations to trade and profit from doing business with the enemy: Nazi Germany?” He said, he didn’t fight for politicians, or his family, or the soldiers next to him, (All Japanese-Americans). He’s fighting for an America that doesn’t exist yet, that would never do the things that happened to him and others. If he doesn’t fight for it now, it will never exist. I could pledge allegiance to that America. I could celebrate that country’s birth.

It’s a kind of a dual consciousness, similar to what Dubois referred to in in “The Souls of Black Folk”: Remembering better, experiencing worse, and working for better in the face of worse. Being a mandatory reporter for a system I wouldn’t entrust a single blood relative to, unmonitored. Supporting institutions that regularly betray you, and your kind, and that “kind” is continually expanding.

In the “Free State of Jones” white men join self-freed slaves in a rebellion against the Confederacy. A Confederacy based on conscription of poor people, while stealing their crops, livestock, land and property,  to fight for the benefit rich people (who are exempted from fighting if they own slaves). Who use the illusion of white supremacy, and white privilege to enforce oppression of Black people, or as they refer to them: Niggers, an English corruption of the respectful word Negars, which means a person from Africa. As in Schwarzeneggar which means in old high German: Black and from Africa. (Like Schwarzkopf means Black Head, as portrayed on the 18th Century coat of arms.)

The reality is that poor whites are as much niggers, in the Confederate system, as Black people. And when they find common cause, and fight to end their common oppressor. This is still true in today’s America. When the indigenous democracy was peopled by people who represented racial, gender, sexual, and other types of diversity, a Wall was built on Manhattan Island, not so much to keep Natives out (It was in the middle of Indian Country), but to keep Black and White slaves and indentured servants from joining the Six-Nations indigenous democracy, where they would welcomed as allies. Rich White people building walls on traditionally indigenous lands to gentrify them (to use the modern term for the process), is not new. Trump uses the same tactics, using verbal violence, to condone physical violence. So what was once done by the state, or allowed by the state, the state now facilitates by allowing weapons of war to be a consumer choice, not an earned ethics bound privilege.

Its not so much where or who will perpetrate the next attack? I come from a people whom the state was the main perpetrator, or allowed the attacks to happen. Electing a Black President (Whose received more death threats than all the white presidents combined) didn’t change that.

Improved technology for killing, without deepened humanity, means that a single person, normally socialized (Where violence against Others was normalized and legal), can kill as many people as a state. The worst massacres were state sponsored or facilitated: Washita (“103”), Sand Creek (“163”), Fort Pillow (“300”), The Red Summer (“293”), Tulsa Black Wall Street (3000), Rosewood, Florida (150). (Numbers in quotes are the official white numbers. Non-quotes are the people of color count). Dylan Roof was following an American tradition: internally hating yourself, then externally hating others. Omar Mateen while saying “’I don’t have a problem with black people….You guys suffered enough’”, while killing people of color, including Black people. Killing people of color while being a person of color, is displaying a sort of mental illness commonly undiagnosed in America, racial self hatred, with gender identity dysphoria. (According to APA internalized racism doesn’t exist). If he was taught to hate himself and natural aspects of his being, with no heathy resolution for the inner turmoil, then no amount of FBI background checks could predict or prevent his attacks. In fact the healing could occur from within the community he targeted, just like Dylann Roof. Communities who suffer, in the absence of healing from the mainstream, must and have developed their own healing ways. Individually, then collectively becoming more humane than their attackers, and the society that generates their attackers. How would one become a healthy gay Muslim man, or a recovered White Supremacist? Not through cognitive-behavioral therapy and anti-depressants. Such healing ways were once widespread in my country, embedded in the culture, as it were. They were largely suppressed by this country, there needs to be, and is a more vigorous resurgence. For a new country to emerge, backlash is predictable, but resistance is fertile.

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Rescue Yourself

Fanon wrote of Sociostructural Violence, where violence perpetrated by systems, was normalized. As a Fanonian, I don’t expect loyalty from institutions which were born and bred to betray me. Whose raison d’etre is betrayal, however much I depend on them.

More recently there have been writings regarding Institutional Betrayal. When I raised the question “Why should you trust institutions that were designed to betray you?” I was told, that design was besides the point. You come to depend, or are forced to depend on the institutions, and that’s where the betrayal comes in. That produced in me a familiar doublethink, DuBois once called Dual Consciousness. Peter Bell referred to it as being successfully schizophrenic. Loyal to America and the American dream, but not surprised when she fails you. Like the Delaney Sisters…”I love my country, but my country doesn’t always love me back.”

 

http://dynamic.uoregon.edu/jjf/institutionalbetrayal/

Institutional Betrayal

The term “Institutional Betrayal” refers to wrongdoings perpetrated by an institution upon individuals dependent on that institution, including failure to prevent or respond supportively to wrongdoings by individuals (e.g. sexual assault) committed within the context of the institution. The term “Institutional Betrayal” as connected with Betrayal Trauma Theory is discussed in more detail in various publications, including in a section starting on page 201 of Platt, Barton, & Freyd (2009) and in a 2013 research report (Smith & Freyd, 2013). Institutional betrayal is a core focus of the book Blind to Betrayal, by Freyd and Birrell, 2013. Currently the most definitive exploration of institutional betrayal is presented in the American Psychologist (Smith & Freyd, 2014).

Betrayal Blindness

Betrayal blindness is the unawareness, not-knowing, and forgetting exhibited by people towards betrayal. The term “betrayal blindness” was introduced by Freyd (1996), and expanded in Freyd (1999) and Freyd and Birrell (2013) in the context of Betrayal Trauma Theory. This blindness may extend to betrayals that are not traditionally considered “traumas,” such as adultery, and also to institutional betrayal. Victims, perpetrators, and witnesses may display betrayal blindness in order to preserve relationships, institutions, and social systems upon which they depend. (Also, see Eileen Zurbriggen’s essay on Betrayal Trauma in the 2004 Election.)

The reality on the ground is that those with privilege are often perceptually impaired: blind, deaf, unfeeling, non-empathic, to those without privilege. So they construct systems, institutions, policy, procedures, to cover the contingencies which affect them, but no one else.

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A Luta Continua: Civil Rights Struggle @ Lane in the 21 Century

There is an inherent conflict that amounts to Civil Rights Struggle, in the on-going efforts supporting Diversity at Lane. One of those conflicts often revolves around whose rules of order should be in operation. I suggest Longhouse Rules.
Longhouse Rules of Order

“We bring our de-colonized human Selves into spaces that have been colonized, whose intent is to specifically deny our humanity.” – Jim Garcia

From a communication about the difference between a predominately white organization which uses Robert’s Rules of Order, attempting to engage with an older Sovereign Indigenous Nation: “Funny, how when you are with people who respect each other there do not need to be “rules of order.” There is the respect of interaction that is inherent in the relationship and the interaction. Those who are respected simply remind others on how to treat each other, if the need arises and all is good. The rules are there because there is power in conflict and the only way to “try to contain the devil” is to make rules. But, alas, you can’t unleash the devil and expect him to behave.” – Ruth Bichsel, Ph.D. (Dine’), FABPS, FACFEI, AHTA, HS-BCP CERT

I witnessed a historic event at the Diversity Council which met on Martin’s actual Birthday, Wednesday January 15th 2014. In short, the historic event was the attempt led by two or more white men, to expel or disempower two or more ethnic minorities from membership in, and leadership of, Diversity Council. In all the decades that Diversity Team, and then Diversity Council existed, no one had ever tried to expel another member for any reason, because no one ever saw a reason to until now. The following meeting, in Black History Month, brought proposals for creating term limits for members. Where following the Longhouse custom, term limits had never been applied. Those who are on a Council serve as long as they are willing, able, and share the respect of other council members. Other council members who do not try to remove them, because of a disagreement.

Diversity Council’s charter allows for it to expand its membership as necessary to achieve its goals. To me it was utterly predictable if it ever happened, who would attempt to, counter this tradition. I hate being right. In the spirit of what I call CCK, Columbus, Cavalry, Klan, certain demographics come with a historical and current dehumanizing predisposition. This in effect, denies history, agency, credibility, and occupies a stance of assumed superiority. This stance can negate traditional or longstanding practices, by which formerly dehumanized groups, use to assert their humanity, and practice equity, in what amounts to Civil Rights Struggle. The creation of the governance system, allowed for the initial exclusion of some of those who had down foundational diversity work, and allowed those who had never actively supported beleaguered diverse “others”, to be appointed on the council.

Knowing the meeting was going to be contentious, girding myself for battle, putting on my game face, before the meeting, I decided to check in with Jim Garcia, who as the first Diversity Coordinator, facilitated Diversity Team meetings, collaboratively developed Diversity Plans, and set certain standards for the college like Terry Cross’ Cultural Competency Continuum.

“We bring our de-colonized human Selves into spaces that have been colonized, whose intent is to specifically deny our humanity.” – Jim Garcia

While General Henry Martyn Robert, was the son of a man opposed to slavery, who became the first president of Morehouse College, i.e. not explicitly colonialist, racist, sexist, classist, his rules of order do not explicitly recognize similar, more inclusive older rules of order among civilizations and civilized nations older than Europe. These forms of democratic governance, which existed among indigenous and other nations, practiced degrees of inclusion, that I would name as Longhouse Rules of Order.

Robert’s Rules, have not exactly been used to advance the purposes of Diversity, either in America, or at Lane Community College. I would advance the notion that any technology or process that doesn’t interrupt colonialism, perpetuates it. Diversity Council, has traditionally operated in a way to interrupt colonialism

Longhouse Rules of Order are based on Indigenous Democratic principles formulated on this continent around 1100 AD when Europe was in the Dark Ages. They required inclusion and consideration of human and non-human points of view, and did not recognize exclusion on the basis of gender, gender expression, race, class, disability, age, religion, spirituality, national origin, or other systems of discrimination prevalent in cultures based in European and Western Colonialism. Indigenous Democracy required that you build relationships based on honesty and trust, as well as knowing the history, strengths, vulnerabilities, and opportunities for growth, in yourself and your fellow citizens. Even if you have a historically adversarial relationship, you are expected to reasonably work out your differences towards shared agreed goals. The realpolitik of “All My Relations” is different from that of “We The People”, in that All My Relations includes in the polity all recognized intelligences including non-human ones, and We The People only recognizes a polity composed of wealthy white men.

Longhouse Rules of Order require an inclusive engaged diversity to operate. One that is mindful of past, present, and future, strengths, alliances, and opposition. Without articulating Longhouse Rules explicitly, Diversity Team, influenced Diversity Council, to cleave closer to Longhouse Rules of Order, more than Roberts.

“Be strong of mind, O chiefs: Carry no anger and hold no grudges. Think not forever of yourselves, O chiefs, nor of your own generation. Think of continuing generations of our families, think of our grandchildren and of those yet unborn, whose faces are coming from beneath the ground”.- The Peacemaker. The Peacemaker as he as known in the Iroquois Confederacy, over 800 years ago brought warring tribes of the Northeast together to form the Iroquois Confederacy. The Peacemaker’s work is preserved in the Confederacy’s traditional constitution, which had a largely unacknowledged (by mainstream historians) impact in shaping the American Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution. The teachings of the Peacemaker remain vital today, offering an inspired model for consensus-building among nations and peoples throughout the world.

The Chiefs, the Peacemaker is addressing, are selected (And / or unselected) by the Clan Mothers, who see to it the Chiefs serve not only the people, but past and future generations. In addition to feminine leadership, there was explicit incorporation of human diversity in all its senses. These are the people of the Eastern Longhouses, (There is also a Western Longhouse tradition native to Oregon), and also some of those who follow the Code of Handsome Lake, which among other things requires living a revivified sober indigenous life (Wellbriety Movement), counter to the alcoholism, addiction, classism, racism, sexism, and heterosexism supported by mainstream American society. Roberts Rules of course, address only temporal efficiency, the issues of equity, and justice, are unquestioned by Robert’s Rules of Order. The process by which we meet and do business, must free us, make us fuller human beings, and undo the damage being done by our larger society which attempts to and often succeeds in processes and procedures which dehumanize us.

Because those of us who were not wealthy white men had to fight to regain the recognized equality we possessed before colonization and slavery, part of our strategy as American citizens, was to recognize our own forms of democracy, which were present before our exposure to European Contact, Colonization, Genocide, and Slavery. Indeed, since many Europeans (Irish, Scots) had some nascent forms of inclusive egalitarian democracy before conquest by more patriarchal cultures, these ones could also feel welcome in Diversity Team. Diversity Team at Lane Community College was composed of committed students, employees, and community members to form a place to support remaining and thriving at Lane, a place we were not always experiencing as diversity friendly, even to certain types of white people. Diversity Team membership was open, inclusive, and volunteer, there was no need to be selective, or to set term limits. If you showed up, and were willing to learn from the pain and experiences of others, work through your own pain and suffering, and teach others to learn from you, you were welcome. A good deal of time could be spent hearing people’s experiences of workplace pain and suffering, which could not be, or was not being alleviated by the complaint processes.

The unions, as part of the college community, minimally or negligibly participated in D-Team, whose issues and purpose for existing, they historically ignored, even though they had a legal mandate to protect their vulnerable members from known modes of discrimination, in a hostile work environment. A number of us, found D-Team to be a refuge and a place we could vent and problem solve our frustration with union negligence, or the slow pace of change at Lane. We in BASE (Black American Staff, faculty, and Employees of Lane Community College) had formed our own informal ethnic specific organization in 1999, to deal with this internally, as well as formulate self-care responses, and policy and system change to benefit, students, employees, and the community. It was informal because we were refused both an inclusive seat on the board, nor were we approached by either bargaining unit, to understand why African-Americans might form such an organization at Lane.

Twenty Five years ago, a number of faculty of color, community members, students, and staff, following the principles laid down in Cross’ Cultural Competency construct, felt some sort of training was necessary. We felt this would be predictably resisted, and began our own R&D to be implemented independently. Mandatory training has its limits, particularly with the resistant. But for those who were early adopters of advanced culturally proficient technologies, certain initiatives like the Longhouse, weren’t simply symbolic, but representative of the type of active refuge we sought.

This refuge feature of D-Team remained part of the conditions when D-Team members were originally excluded when the structure of Diversity Council was first outlined in detail. This initial D-Council structure, included the unions which had ignored our concerns and working conditions and excluded those of us from D-Team, who had put in many person-years of effort over the years, including myself . I publicly asked the question “What kind of structured process creates a “Diversity Council” with no Black people on it?” “And think that’s normal behavior, and purports to be credibly using the term Diversity?”

A union, and (I use IATSE as an example) assumes and supports basic skill maintenance (stage craft, carpentry, electronics, audio, video, computer literacy, scientific and technical literacy) as well as physical, emotional, and psychological, safety procedures (show up sober, rested, not under the influence, respect your and the artists crew regardless of gender, gender expression, race or class). A union, bound by law, representing us except within a grievance process, which can only respond to the legal remedies, i.e. illegal overt discrimination based on evidence, is still a culturally blind response and less than the full support mandated by the science. They stop calling you nigger, kyke, or faggot, and illegally discriminate in hiring, in the workplace, or engage in microaggressions as detailed in the literature, both psychology and desegregation case law. The answers to here’s what happen when you desegregate, diversify, and here’s what you do to desegregate, are not “rocket surgery”. My medical student daughter, used the meme rocket surgery, to illustrate that in order to do rocket surgery, you have to know anatomy, engineering, physics, and be a creative interdisciplinary generalist, because some things aren’t in the “book”. In the Longhouse Book, we expect resistance, we plan for conflict, the obvious retention problems and often hostile meeting climate, often serve to thin members who wish simply to have their projects continue.

When we finally merged with D-Council, our previous culture of inclusion merged with it, and we never saw the need to set term limits (which come from a colonized sensibility in any case), nor did we see the need to develop a process for exclusion or expelling members because of our historical working relationships and mutual respect, trust, and skill in discussing difficult issues that could not receive a hearing in any other council. Indeed our charter allows for expansion of membership if our council deems a person or position necessary to do its work. Given the evolving and inclusive definitions of Diversity, this is a necessary feature of our council. Many employees of color feel our unions are at best culturally blind, if not culturally blind, allowing culturally destructive behavior: i.e allowing illegal racially discriminatory hiring, or racially hostile work environments, to exist. Knowing these patterns and places exist, one could reasonably point new hires of color, to be mentored by more senior employees of color, at least where such networks exist. Since neither the college as a whole, nor the bargaining units do this, nor recognize that discrimination exists and is ongoing, many employees of color rightfully assert, the unions do nothing to protect them. The comments which the led to the attempted deposing of Elizabeth Andrade as D-Council chair, on Jan 15, 2014, were not her own thoughts in isolation, but echoed by a great many of us, including myself. Since my position on D-Council derives from the same D-Team, D-Council merger, 10 years ago, therefore my membership is of the same basis as Elizabeth, an attack on her, is an attack on me. Which those of you who know me, know I will not be passive against such incursions on my sovereignty.

As a maroon in the tradition of Al Hajj Al Malik Shabazz, I believe in self defense in meeting verbal violence assertively, articulately, on the levels that it occurs, and this creates peace. Also, while meeting such incursions, maintain a safe place to retreat to, like a Longhouse.

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Rites of Passage

It’s summer, and that means Rites of Passage time, when I do workshops for African-American related youth on preventing addiction and problems related to sexuality, whether or not you’re under the influence. I combine 21st Century knowledge with 25th Dynasty wisdom, i.e. African Old School. It’s keeping your spirits, your wits, and your body safe, as well as safeguarding those around you. It comes down to and improving upon “Who Raised You!?” Among my peeps, that phrase usually means you had absent or questionable home training. Or conversely you had good home training and you “actin’ like you ain’t got no sense” aka Motherwit.

Watching the UO Basketball Player Sexual Assault situation, Rites of Passage and “Who raised you?” come to mind. I played, what if they (males and female) were my kids?, in my mind. A source told me the athletes played hooky from a structured “rites of passage” program, to go to that party. If so, I’m thinking maybe the approach wasn’t African Old School / Motherwit enough. It’s probably not reasonable to expect the UO, and Eugene-Mayberry to replicate Black Old School, but neither they, nor the young woman can go back “home”. My exemplars for Black Basketball player behavior are: Paul Robeson, my father, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. They exemplify that college athletics is merely a gateway through an intellectual life, into one of service and activism. Kareem recently wrote in Time magazine: “You can’t go home again.” …”Wolfe, who took that title with permission from writer Ella Winter, used it to mean that after we leave home and are battered about by our adventures in life, we are changed. And in our disillusioned mind, “home” becomes a romanticized symbol of our innocence, in which we dreamed limitlessly and were loved unconditionally.”

Speaking of losing innocence through battering adventures, if two guys take one woman into a bathroom in someone else’s house, while one stands outside as lookout, and one acknowledges that he wouldn’t want what was done in that bathroom to happen to his mom, or sister, is it shooting beyond their conceptual arc that this woman should be treated as if she is a daughter, a sister, a potential mom? I’d say they knew they were doing wrong, by anyone’s standards. To say they’re being lynched… white folks…Pleeze.

I have relatives who were actually lynched, I was raised with Emmett Till as a cautionary tale. A Black Man, married to a white woman, was lynched in Eugene (half his body was found in the Willamette). I’d say the use of the term lynching is being made by people whose families weren’t targets of actual lynching, therefore their home training did not include how to conduct yourself as if you were a target. Black women, living in Eugene during the time of that lynching, faced rape, broad daylight attempted kidnapping and abduction, racial attacks, and had no recourse to police, nor could they appeal to the district attorney to prosecute, as the Eugene Klan was quite active, yet less overtly violent than in Mississippi.

Paraphrasing Frederick Douglass, it is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken adults. Having raised daughters and sons in this community who’ve avoided being either targets or perpetrators of sexual assault (but who have not avoided being racially targeted). I have tried to pass on the collectivist adage, I was raised with: When you are out in society you are not there representing yourself, you are representing Us (Black Americans specifically, and the best of humanity generally). So hold yourself to a standard of behavior better than those around you, particularly when they’re acting like they ain’t got no sense.

What role should the UO Community take in its culturally competent in loco parentis avatar, in raising what the Old School Black Community, would call an upright strong Black Man? A dangerous Black Man i.e. law abiding, intelligent, articulate, activist, armed with a college degree?

I’m glad attention is being paid to the experience of the victim, without overt regard to her race. But whatever privileges a woman might have because of her race, her gender often makes her an unprotected target, prey to white men, and “honorary” white men, like certain Black Male Athletes, who are not held to culturally specific aspirational standards of behavior. A salient set of questions for women of any race or gender expression, is how do I detect whether this person will harm me? Its not like serial rapists of any race in college settings can’t simulate being harmless, before abruptly turning on you.

My kids, (And the vast majority of LCC Rites of Passage kids) have so far successfully avoided being criminals, perpetrators or victims of sexual crimes, or even accused of such. Our upbringing prepares one against the inevitable targeting either as a victim, or a perpetrator. We are taught to make appropriate adjustments in character and action as if you’re an active target. My hope for the “sister” in this incident is that she comes back strong, like Maya did from similar circumstances: “Every human grouping, whether its just two people, a family, people in the neighborhood, people in the city, in a nation, a tribe, a species; people live in direct relation to the heroes and the Sheroes, they have. – Maya Angelou

My Sheroes and Heroes, taught me that being the best we can be, when the world expects the worst of you, often makes you more of a target. Therefore, you don’t get a second chance to redeem yourself after a mistake. So learn from the others around you, and don’t make certain predictable, and avoidable mistakes. That’s why police are called “One Time”, because the one time, you think you can get away with it, is the time they get you. So don’t give them any opportunity. None, Zero. Zip. Don’t waste an opportunity to excel, for us. We need you strong. Stay Strong, Stay Ready. Come Prepared.

 

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30 Years an Oregonian

30 Years an Oregonian

 

This year marks my 30th year in Oregon. To celebrate, I took in a double feature which exemplifies the two poles of my Oregonian experience. 12 Years a Slave, and Gravity. Both films, helmed by directors of color, one served to ground me in reality, while the other took me up to my favorite fantasy, a world without borders, that isn’t so heavy or weighted down. The reality of space though, is that it has no breathable atmosphere, extremes of hot and cold, and is always trying to kill you, nothing personal.

Perhaps it is fitting that a British director, and British leading man tell an American story, which resonates today in contemporary Oregon, and the rest of America. Britain did end slavery before America, an monarch of African descent sat on the British throne during our Revolutionary War (Charlotte Mecklenburg-Streilitz), and her granddaughter (Queen Victoria) decreed that any American slave who made it into Canada had the protection of the British military.

12 Years a Slave was directed by Steve McQueen, and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, as Solomon Northrup. Solomon Northrup, an African-American citizen living in Saratoga New York, who in 1841 was induced to go below the Mason Dixon line, to Washington D.C., drugged, and kidnapped into slavery, in Louisiana. This was not an uncommon fate for free men of color, living under White Supremacy. They were particularly targeted because their intellect often made them more threatening, because they dared to think of themselves as equal to whites. Northrup was a man of intellect, gracious manners, and means, musically inclined, well traveled, and of course literate. In slavery, other than his musical talent, his pride, and his literacy marked him for death, thus had to be hidden.

Northrup is portrayed as a tender husband, a loving gentle father, and a man well known in his community. While McQueen is not heavy handed with his subject matter, slavery. He doesn’t shy away from the casual hairtrigger brutality, nor the attempts of enslaved people to maintain their humanity in lovemaking, or simply staying alive, while being whipped for the crime of acquiring soap after being raped. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a “Good Massa”, while Michael Fassbender plays “Bad Massa”, the difference being the former can stand by and allow brutality to occur, while the latter is sadistic and inventive in his drunken cruelty. Alfre Woodard does a turn as a former slave turned mistress of the plantation.  While it was never shown, the Confederate flag symbolizes all those activities.  Oregon is essentially a Southern State in the Northwest.

As an American citizen of African descent, it would have been illegal for Solomon Northrup to come to live in Oregon, it was the fact of his intellect, cross cultural competency,  that made him, and people like him threatening to figures like Samuel Thurston, Joseph Lane, or their contemporary equivalents. As it remained llegal for him to live within the Eugene City limits before 1965, or be on the street after dark in Springfield, could he find employment as a music teacher? Could he remain 30 years an Oregonian?

 

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Paul Robeson and Wiley Griffon: Two Different Role Models

This is the full version of the article published in the Eugene Weekly, on Thursday March 7th 2013.

A play celebrating the life of Paul Robeson, will occur on March 8th & 10th at LCC Main Campus will benefit the Lane Community College Black Student Union, scholarship fund.Dr. Stanley Coleman a director and actor, now faculty at Lane, plays Paul Robeson in the one-man Broadway play by Phillip Hays Dean. Said the New York Times:

“Of all the imposing figures who have strutted across the stage of American culture in this century, none has been more invested with a superman mystique than Paul Robeson…and…Phillip Hayes Dean’s play PAUL ROBESON should do nothing to diminish his stature…PAUL ROBESON conveys an inspiring moral fervor.”

LCC’s BSU, has provided the lion’s share of the funding of a historical monument honoring the earliest named African-American resident, Wiley Griffon. The monument is expected to be installed this spring, in the Masonic Cemetery where Mr. Griffon is buried. Historically Lane’s BSU has been a source of activism resulting in Oregon’s first Black, Ethnic, and Interdisciplinary Studies programs, as well as supporting MLK events, and local Black History Events.
Though these two historical figures never met, they nevertheless represent and role model two distinct Eugene African-American survival modes. Paul Robeson, athlete, lawyer, singer, actor, and outspoken labor and Civil Rights activist, was not Wiley Griffon: ‘ready smile’, ‘devout Christian’, ‘obsequious Chesterfield’ or more plainly in one of Mr. Griffon’s obituaries: “what a Southerner would call a good n****r”.

The term obsequious Chesterfield triggered my Microaggression Anansi Sense. (Anansi aka Aunt Nancy, is a West African trickster in the form of a spider. In other words my “spidey sense” for racism and its various tricks was tingling). According to the dictionary, Chesterfield is either a style of sofa, or an overcoat. As this reference was clearly about Mr. Griffon, and he was neither a piece of furniture, nor clothing, I dug further, because like Robeson’s sojourn to Eugene it seemed implausible and cryptic at best. Though no African-Americans were featured in Chesterfield cigarette ads, more African-Americans smoked Chesterfields than any other cigarette until World War II. In fact (similar to targeted marketing of menthol cigarettes to minorities, and their association with minorities, to this day within prison) the brand loyalty was so strong, that in an early version of dog whistle capitalism, Lucky Strike cigarettes featured an ad campaign that cast Chesterfield as a “n****r” cigarette, causing #1 Chesterfield to drop to #3 behind Lucky Strike. So to refer to Mr. Griffon as “ebon-hued muleteer, and obsequious Chesterfield”, is to engage in a microinsult. Microinsults are defined as “Communications that convey rudeness and insensitivity, demeaning a persons racial heritage or identity. Subtle or not so subtle snubs “frequently unknown to the perpetrator, but clearly convey a hidden insulting message to the recipient of color.”

Segregation was the law of the land during Mr. Griffon’s lifetime and Robeson’s rise to international prominence. Overt discrimination and later microaggressions were raised to a high art, when Robeson visited Eugene, Salem, and Portland. Robeson was an American patriot, and a citizen of the world, who spoke 46 languages, performed in 25 languages, who believed in holding his nation accountable for the legally promised equality to all its citizens. In that, unlike Wiley Griffon, he was reviled by some, as an alleged Communist, and beloved by many more who love freedom more than racial supremacy. Robeson’s exemplary response to discrimination, inspired some prominent historical Oregon figures like Senator Mark Hatfield, to action. Those qualities would certainly cause Southerners among others to refer to Robeson and those like him as “uppity”.

Robeson was born in 1898, when Mr. Griffon was operating the tram here in Eugene, to a slave who had freed himself at 15 and became a college graduate and firebrand minister. His mother came from an abolitionist Quaker family. Two years after Mr. Griffon’s death, Robeson won a four-year academic scholarship to Rutgers University in 1915. He received the Phi Beta Kappa key in his junior year, graduated as class Valedictorian, and despite suffering racist physical violence against him by his teammates, won 15 varsity letters in three sports (baseball, basketball, and track), and was named twice to the All-American Football team. He was posthumously named to the College Football Hall of Fame 19 years after his death.

At Columbia Law School (1919-1923), where he met his wife Eslanda Cordoza Goode (first black woman to head a pathology laboratory), he taught Latin and played professional football on weekends to finance his tuition. He had a brief career in law, when the white secretary at his firm, refused to take dictation from a “Negro”, and the partner of the firm backed the secretary. Robeson quit, and with the encouragement of his wife Essie, he turned to the stage.

Paul Robeson believed in and practiced a healthy African-American cultural existence as an activist. He tried to choose roles that were uplifting to the image of African-Americans as players on the global stage. He was the first Black man to play Othello, in the 20th Century, as it was usually played by white men in make-up. To practice for that role, he practiced and could perform it in period English, contemporary English, Italian, German, and French to name a few. For example whenever he played the role of an African royal who is displaced into a largely white society, he learned that specific tribes language. While the Russian Court might have spoken French as the language of diplomacy, like Alexander Pushkin before him, Robeson spoke Russian, which when he sang Russian folk songs, endeared him to the people. When he and Essie were traveling to Moscow via Germany, Nazi’s pulled them off the train, because they thought Essie was white. Paul noted the similarities in racism and the affinity of racists between German Nazi’s, and the Amerikkkan Klan. The Russians, didn’t appear to have issues with him or Essie, racially. It impressed the Robesons enough, to consider educating their son Paul Jr. in Russia, because of the centrality of racism within the standard American school curriculum. Many of these omissions continue today, even in Robeson’s case, as an role model example,  which if included would inspire excellence in people of color, and train whites to recognize and be accustomed to excellence in people of color. While Robeson, never joined the Communist Party, he was not the first to note the obscene marriage between Capitalism, Racism, and White Supremacy, noting anyone talking about Equality, particularly Racial Equality, was called a Communist, by the racists.
When War was declared against Japan, the young Mark Hatfield, in college, and watching tearfully as his Japanese American friends were being loaded onto railroad cars on their way to internment camps, was part of a student group at Willamette University, that brought performers like Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson to Salem. Of course, you would put up international stars in the finest hotel. But the hotel owner refused to allow Robeson to stay because he was Black. Embarrassed, Mark Hatfield, borrowed the family car, and drove Robeson to the Benson Hotel in Portland. I asked Senator, “What was that ride up to Portland like? What did you talk about?” Senator Hatfield replied “Oh, he just laughed the whole situation off.” “He was a genius, you know. A great man, and in conversation, he had a way of making you feel as if you were on his level.” “He talked about his life, and his travels, the things he’d seen.”

Senator Hatfield as a Naval officer saw action at Iwo Jima, and walked through Hiroshima after the atomic bombing. These experiences led to his famous anti-war stance, but as an Oregon legislator, he also successfully pushed through a landmark Public Accommodations Bill in Oregon, to end discrimination in public transportation and hotel accommodations. This was done he told me because of his experience with Robeson, and was done before such legislation was enacted nationally.

While he noted Robeson was called a Communist, many Communists, as Senator Hatfield pointed out were “Our Communists” citing Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, and Tito of Yugoslavia. He pointed out the Ho Chi Minh was our ally against the Japanese in World War II. Ho Chi Minh quoted Thomas Jefferson, and the French Rights of Man in his inaugural address. Further investigation revealed that the young Ho Chi Minh, while in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance kickin’ it with the likes of Marcus Garvey, wrote articles against American lynching and the Ku Klux Klan. Particularly because Black soldiers were being lynched, in uniform, in New York City, as well as the Deep South. It was strange that a Communist spoke out about lynchings, but three wartime Commanders in Chief were silent on the issue, not even suggesting that White Americans killing Black soldiers on US soil, might be an act of treason.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize racial injustice, but two geniuses Albert Einstein and Paul Robeson, signed a petition as part of the American Campaign to End Lynching, and brought it to President Truman, who refused to see them, and disparaged Robeson. Though Robeson, campaigned and performed for the troops at home and abroad, he did wonder out loud, rightfully in my view, whether African-American soldiers should fight abroad for a country that allowed them to be lynched in its streets. Thus it was not a new sentiment when Muhammad Ali voiced it in response to refusing the draft call in the Vietnam era, noting “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger.” Indeed, the leader of the Vietnamese championed racial justice in a way, no “Red Blooded American” (after the Ku Klux Klan symbology) cared or dared to.

I was interviewing the Senator, for I, Too Am Eugene, because a Black community elder Willie Mims, had mistakenly identified him as being the reason Robeson came to Eugene. Senator acknowledged that he had brought Robeson to Salem, but it was the Sandell family who brought Robeson to Eugene, where he sang at the Ferry Street Chapel, in the Ferry Street Community, before it was bulldozed. Mr. Mims remembered that incident as a child, as well as a family photograph taken of Mr. Robeson at that event. Ferry Street was the most well known integrated community built outside the city limits, because non-whites were not allowed to live or buy homes within the city limits until 1965. Imagine WWII veterans returning to Eugene, not being allowed to buy or rent homes in the city, and having a County Commissioner named Christian, signing the order in 1949 to bulldoze a church, a juke joint, and people’s homes. Of course without signing the order to allow American Citizens to live wherever they could afford. This would be exactly the kind of example of institutional racism, that Paul Robeson, on the personal request of local white friends, would come to lend his considerable voice.

While there is little about Wiley Griffon’s commentary about the racism of his times, he reminds me of the line sung by Odetta when she came to Eugene: “You Don’t Know My Mind. And if you see me laughing, I’m laughing just to keep from crying.” One survival mode is to wear the smiling mask and not speak up. That was not Robeson’s way, and he lived longer than Wiley Griffon.

“As an artist I come to sing, but as a citizen, I will always speak for peace, and no one can silence me in this.
“The artist must elect to fight for Freedom or for Slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.”

“The man who accepts Western values absolutely, finds his creative faculties becoming so warped and stunted that he is almost completely dependent on external satisfactions, and the moment he becomes frustrated in his search for these, he begins to develop neurotic symptoms, to feel that life is not worth living, and, in chronic cases, to take his own life.” – Paul Robeson

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Good Black Don’t Crack

“Good Black Don’t Crack”, my grandma always said. By which she meant both we age well, not actually always “looking our age”, as well as a certain apparent resilience in the face of continuous stressors. At 50 I once got carded buying a six pack of holiday beer, and I said,”Wait, you’re carding me, I’m 50.” “ The woman said, “You have a young hairstyle” meaning African locs. I said “See these gray hairs, I earned them fair and square, teenagers, and in the trenches of Lane Community College.” When I think of Lane in analogous song I’m reminded of that verse from Steely Dan’s Aja: “Up on the hill, they think I’m ok, or so they say.” I took my first break from Lane in 20 years for 9 months, a sort of medically demanded heart rest after my academic sabbatical was denied for curious reasons. I teach addiction studies, and ethnic studies, and run a drop-in Recovery Center, “Recovering Sobriety, Recovering Culture”. The principle idea is replacing whatever addictive culture you practice, with that practice of that which makes you strong; hopefully a deeper non-addictive memetic culture drawn from a tradition that works to free you from the slavery of addiction. I proposed a sabbatical in which I would travel to Africa to gather more material for my classes, visit my “roots”, and also explore with other addictions practitioners of color, what their effective modifications to generic practice were. In addition I would go to Hawaii, to the VA and look at their multicultural environment and whether they used certain modalities, or were open to new ones. They rejected my proposal saying they couldn’t find any connection between my sabbatical proposal and my daily work… Oh and I didn’t specify who I was going to see in Hawaii, though I did specify who I was going to see in Indian Country (Eduardo Duran, Healing the Soul Wound ), and among Black people (Angela Davis, Prison Industrial Complex, and Michelle Alexander The New Jim Crow).
It seems in this job I have, people who have never had anyone complete college in their family, come to us after a decade or more out of may or may not have finished high school; and are hungry to graduate from the school of hard knocks: Incarceration, Addiction, Combat, Family, So my presence at the college, is acknowledgement that there has been a need for certain specialized attention to get people through to a more successful, less stressful part of their lives. Certainly I’ve gotten acclimated, even addicted to a certain stress level, in dealing with a type of student the system wasn’t overtly designed for. It became normal to me, or at least not uncommon. Oh well Soldier on…it War…and as my people say it was so bad it got good to him… Cancer, schmancer, lose 20 pounds swimming in Hawaii, broccoli kale Sodarshan Chakra & Kirtan Kriya, more music, more writing, as therapy, submitted a bunch of columns, and only this latest one would be published. Lost the locs on the first full moon of August, planted them in the garden on the blue moon, Changing my look from lion to conservative drag panther. Returning to work with the notion of staying away from bitter responses to continuing local and national, vexing politics, which set me on the path of anger becomes cancer. Maya Angelou in her “Iconoclasts” pairing with Dave Chappelle (S2 Epi 6).
“If you are not angry, you are either a stone, or you are too sick to be angry. You should be angry. Now mind you, there’s a difference, you must not be bitter. Let me show you why. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats up on the host it doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So you use anger yes, you write it, you paint it, you dance it, you march it, you vote it, you do everything about it. You talk it, never stop talking it.”
Like the old Elvis Costello song, “I used to be disgusted, now I try to stay amused”.
I returned to the reality that though I was missed, it still seems like I’m doing the work of four people essentially alone. It’s not exactly like things are getting worse, why only last week I took someone to detox, from school, with the help of our public safety department. First time I had ridden in the back of a marked police car without cuffs, since I was a kid, and it was to keep the also uncuffed student company. One of my recently retired friends (32 years as the first and so far only African-American to retire from the juvenile “Just Us” department.) Asked “How is it being back?” “Oh, they missed me” I said, “But they’re still killing you” he said. I shrugged, “I’m trying to stay out of college politics, just deal with students (which inevitably gets you into college politics) and stay amused.”
I was really amused watching the election, process both locally and nationally. It was my pleasure to assist a Black first time voter in my office, to re-elect the President, and the observe the white wringing of hands at “losing their country” to the minority and women vote. But Republicans aren’t the only one’s clueless about minority and race relations.

I’m not in Eugene City Council Ward 2, where there was a runoff election between an incumbent and a newcomer to the political scene. So I didn’t care about the outcome, predictable as it was, so typically Eugene. An 87 year old white woman named Betty Taylor, and Juan Carlos Valle, a 40 something Latino former illegal immigrant success story poster child, now working in government service, getting his political street cred, by being on this committee, or that commission, not rocking the boat too much. Which is fine, it’s a time honored format for political success, lots of white folks, and others do it. Unfortunately, this is Eugene, which “Honors Diversity” by elevating LGBT concerns often over those of communities of color. I mean this is the community where several years ago, local Democrats threw their support not behind re-electing the incumbent African-American County Commissioner Bobby Green, but supported a guy who showed up to a public meeting in a frog suit, Rob Handy. I admit that the concerns of frogs are often left out of the political discourse, and they are an indicator species of environmental degradation, but the environment has been degrading for a long time for a lot of us. This all happened just before we elected Obama the first time. So if I were to only slightly exaggerate, I would say, you replaced a former City Councilor, UO football player, from the South, seasoned in dealing with less than culturally competent people, and systems; in a county government known for, and riddled with White Supremacists, and their not so passive aggressive supporters, with a guy in a frog suit. Who has proven, he is considerably outmatched in the game of local politics. I wish him peace in his garden, may frogs live there in harmony forever.

You don’t necessarily succeed in politics in this town, by being confrontational, and Juan Carlos, is not known for being confrontational, though sometimes, with people who are microaggressively racist, you have to call them out and confront them, with data and evidence, of which there is plenty.
I observed the obvious unspoken racial subtext in the race, without comment. But by following an email thread, about the “debate” between the candidates. A Taylor supporter asked Valle about abortion, not an issue in the Council’s jurisdiction, but a dog whistle shibboleth presumably aimed at his presumed religion. A shibboleth is defined variously as 1. “a word or phrase frequently used, or a belief strongly held, by members of a group that is usually regarded by outsiders as meaningless, unimportant, or misguided.”
Really, abortion?
“2. a saying that is widely used or a belief that is widely held, especially one that interferes with somebody’s ability to speak or think about things without preconception
3. a unique pronunciation, word, behavior, or practice used to distinguish one group of people from another and to identify individuals as either members of the group or outsiders.”

A Valle supporter, an NAACP official, asked about Taylor’s two negative Council votes against renaming Centennial, Martin Luther King Blvd. A number of her supporters favored the renaming, (Notably Pete Sorenson, who dubbed Betty “The conscience of the Council”) which was both a progressive and parliamentary procedural no-brainer (City Council had always seconded previous unanimous Planning Commission votes). A vote which is a continuing sore point with communities of color, should be legitimately explained, not described as a “low blow”. We can disagree, but you should articulate your position, even if you prioritize the interests of luxury car dealerships, over local civil rights struggle. A position I’m just sayin’, more stereotypically Republican, than Democrat. We won the street and the White House, not her bench, or their “Traditional America”. It’s OK, “We Honor Diversity”.

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Hiking With The Preacher

This is a longer piece than that which was submitted to the Eugene Weekly, around the Sikh Temple shooting. Beyond the limits that 500 words imposes on what you can say…one can say more

Hiking With The Preacher

The Preacher and I were hiking in Fall Creek, east of Springtucky, and Eugene-Mayberry.  It was a fortnight after the Sikh Temple shootings in Wisconsin, an event itself a fortnight after the shootings in Aurora Colorado at the opening of a Batman movie. I mentioned feeling an itching in the back of my head, “kind of like a deer feels in the crosshairs”.

The Preacher laughed and asked, “Was this the forest Derrick Bell mentioned in one of his Geneva Crenshaw stories?”  Referring to the former Dean of the University of Oregon Law school, who left it in protest after its faculty failed to hire an extremely qualified Japanese-American female law scholar, declaring a failed search when two white men declined the job.

“You mean the one where Geneva rescues him from some supremacists shooting at him?” I clarified.

“Yeah, exactly” “Why do you feel that a nice walk in the woods, might be marred by being killed by white supremacists?” he asked.

“Well, it’s not just because they actually have pointed guns at me while in the woods, swimming with my family on a hot summers day. It’s kind of related to the childhood question of why do they hate us, these white people?” “It’s not like you get black D.C. sniper types ‘snapping’, on a regular basis”.

“What’s up with these white guys, who acquire weapons, and start shooting people in places they feel safe: The jogging path (Chris Braithwaite), school (Columbine, Thurston), a theater (Aurora), your place of worship (16th Street Baptist, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin). “Sure technically 16th Street was a bombing. But Klansmen didn’t feel comfortable walking into a Black church service and opening fire on the congregation back in the day.” “I mean we’re out in the boonies, but this is often near where these people live and do target practice, what better place?”. “It’s weird to feel safer on the L.A. freeway, than in the middle of nowhere, or even in my office.” “At least on I-10, people shoot at you because you cut them off, not because of your driving while black, or worshiping while Sikh”.

“You don’t think its and irrational fear, this fear of assassination in the woods by random strangers?” The Preacher asked me.

“I’ve had death threats. I can’t deny that. The fact is there are people that don’t like me, and what I do, to the point of bodily harm, is a fact. So I don’t live in fear, but I do watch my breath, my step, and the sightlines for wherever I am. My degrees are in Psychology. Western Psychology as a set of constructs was born on the irrational foundation of White Racial Supremacy. It has no answer to why racists, lynch us, bomb churches, or shoot up places of sanctuary. Nor do they have a cure. White authorities argue about whether the Sikh Temple shooting was a hate crime. As if the most dangerous domestic terrorists in terms of body counts, have not been racists committing hate crimes. Actually, until White Supremacists started targeting white people and institutions, they weren’t even considered terrorists. So from the point of view of Western Psychology, these people who were once considered normal upstanding citizens as Klansmen, are now considered aberrant, mentally ill, snapped, as if racism wasn’t a normal part of the fabric that nurtured them.”

“Actually” the Preacher opined “Klansmen, Skinheads, etc. are now fig-leafed as individually aberrant, mentally ill, snapped, as if racism wasn’t a normal part of the social fabric that nurtured them.”  “In their fear, they imagine they are God because they take life. Courage nurtures life.”  “They are imagining they are doing God’s will, by targeting those they fear, without having the courage to face that part of themselves, the Other, represents.” “Loving your enemy means, having the courage to look past the ignorant fear in your heart, to the place you are connected to your “enemy”.

“Ahh, so you know, see, and “love” them as a part of yourself, even the unhealthy fearful parts of yourself.” “The love referred to in the Aramaic originalahebw, refers to a transpersonal force that brings opposites together in secret to create new life.” “I have felt the temptation to arm myself, after the death threats. But I haven’t, because a gun, instills a false sense of security. Better to do as the Dalai Lama, says and simply don’t walk down that proverbial symbolic dark alley.”

 

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Making Peace With The Preacher

These pieces were originally submitted to the Eugene Weekly as part of my regular submission process, but were never published, hence the original 500 word length, that I have taken the liberty of expanding upon. The original “peg” was the 20th Anniversary of the L.A. Rebellion, which the media was calling the Rodney King Riots. The only problem with that designation, is that unlike traditional race riots, where one majority ethnicity, invades the segregated neighborhood of another, The LA Rebellion of 1992 was multiracial and multifaceted. African-Americans accounted for only 1/3rd of the arrests. So clearly when the poverty and hopelessness reaches beyond African-Americans, into Whites, Latino’s, Natives, and Asians, we have a situation beyond the usual scope of media attention.

Making Peace With The Preacher Pt. 1

 

The Preacher and I were having lunch out on the terrace at Simply Wholesome in L.A. It was a sunny day in May, some weeks after the 20 year anniversary of the L.A. Rebellion. “Where were you, then?” he asked.

“I was in D.C. working freelance for the Feds, CSAP.” “I was part of a team creating an African-American culturally specific community organizing for substance abuse prevention training.” “We had just finished a conversation about organizing and strategic planning happening on multiple levels, on both sides of community health.  We were looking at knowing the history, particularly the hidden history of a community: what do Elders, as well as gang members, know?”  The elders might remember when the only gangs were organized for self-defense of the community. They might recall a time when there weren’t so many liquor stores. The question might be asked where did all this start?

“Someone came in from a break and said, ‘L.A. is burning!’ “We watched events unfold on CNN, and realized, someone planned this, just like we were planning healing.” “Hence the term Rebellion, rather than riot. Rebellions are planned, riots are not.”

The Preacher nodded over his fish sandwich. “The ‘trial’ verdict was the predictably obvious match. You and I grew up in an era, where a black man stood a 50/50 chance of surviving a traffic stop with LAPD. Those self defense “gangs” like the Slausons and the Businessmen, were organized to protect people against the Spookhunters, a white supremacist gang who preyed upon Black people “encroaching” upon public parks and spaces, including public schools. The police actively aided the Spookhunters, and also actively recruited from the Klan in the South, as well as ex-military. Thus their racial attacks under color of a badge, sanctioned extra-judicial violence of the civilian Spookhunters. You couldn’t call the cops on the Spookhunters, and you certainly couldn’t call the cops on the cops. What happened to Rodney King was historically typical for LAPD. A white guy’s video provided undeniable evidence of our longtime experience. Once their trial moved to Simi Valley, a mostly white jury would see no crime being done in Rodney’s beating. They wouldn’t see the Latasha Harlings, the Leonard Deadwylers, the Eula Mae Loves,  earlier versions of Trayvon, where there was injustice in their deaths. These conditions are like invisible gas vapors needing a spark. “You can smell the anger building.”

“True Dat” I said sipping my Guava Explosion. “But two thirds of the arrestees weren’t black, so the issues were beyond simply race, why call it a race riot.” “The race issues are like lighting a can of gas, sitting on top of a powderkeg, itself resting on nitroglycerin.” “As another famous preacher said, Poverty is the worst kind of violence”.

The Preacher rejoindered, “Poverty, as Gandhiji would have pointed out, is not being simply broke, but having your options constrained against your will. To counter the miseducation you have to be home schooled in liberation motherwit mentality”  “People clearly laid advance plans. What about that ‘Spook Who Sat By The Door’ liquor store reduction op you were telling me about?”

Hmm…Liberation Motherwit Mentality. I mused. Seeing connections that exist, without being shown them by the Establishment Authorities. “The basic idea…” I said “Comes from the community’s feeling that ‘There are too many damn liquor stores’.” “So on the one hand, you have to wonder, what is the least harmful amount of liquor stores for community health?” “What are the effects of the liquor stores that do exist?” “What kind of businesses would be healthier than liquor stores?” “After Vietnam, returning Black Vet’s wishing to start businesses, were channeled by the government into liquor stores, even if you wanted to start something else, you only got loans for liquor stores.” “That started part of it.” “Later, as the vets, lost their businesses, others moved into the liquor store businesses, like Koreans, and even Muslim immigrants. Even though in the case of Muslims, alcohol is against their spiritual beliefs, liquor stores are recession proof.” “Liquor stores also tend to proliferate with billboards in the neighborhood, there is a symbiotic relationship like herpes assists AIDS.”

“The FBI noted once, half of all crime is alcohol related. Therefore lowering the number of liquor stores, lowers some crimes. The term is called Alcohol Outlet Density. The idea is basically that it is more healthy to limit the amount of liquor stores per capita. The city broke its own laws regarding Alcohol Outlet Density. South Central at the time of the Rebellion had three times (750) the legal limit (250) of liquor stores. Many targeted liquor stores were also magnets for crack paraphernalia and prostitution. The predictable verdict reaction provided cover to torch liquor stores. Someone fielded sniper teams to keep the responding fire department at bay, some fire fighters were non-fatally wounded, which presumes a skill set. Took out half the liquor stores. An effective if illegal prevention strategy. So you think about who has the skill set, and the motivation. Not the gangs. They typically don’t have sniper skill sets. The Panthers don’t exist.” “So its not really a matter of who could pull off the operation, it was done”. “When Addiction is Slavery, Slaves Will Rebel.”

Preacher saith “Burning Liquor Stores doth not Create Recovery.”

 

Making Peace With The Preacher Pt.2

“Burning Liquor Stores doth not Create Recovery.”

I heard the words of the Preacher, and likened them to what Fanon said about fervor being the weapon of choice of the impotent. When the Chinese dumped tons of British Opium into the sea, it sparked a war. Of course the Chinese had every right to think of the illegal British importation of crude pharmaceuticals, as a chemical warfare first strike. Certainly controlling the decades long export of refined illegal pharmaceuticals has often been the pursuit of military and intelligence services all over the globe. The cartels, or the multinationals, also have the capacity to make such war. Destroying a few liquor stores would only ensure that insurance companies, coupled with aggressive marketing on the part of the tobaccohol companies would bring the liquor stores back with a vengeance.

I closed my eyes.  Inhaled. Held, Suspended, and relaxed my breath. Feeling the heat, from the day, and the past. Presently I opened my eyes to a passing silver undercover car, and the trailing LAPD marked unit. Heat in the present. Well it wasn’t illegal to think these thoughts yet.

What if, for every liquor store burnt in the L.A. Rebellion, there bloomed 7 grassroots treatment centers, with 12 garden-gyms, each supporting 5 reading rooms in guerrilla libraries. For every Aquarius Book store burned in the ‘hood, may it be restored and replicated tenfold.

I asked the Preacher, “Did you ever know or hear of, Alfred Ligon?”

“Aquarius Bookstore, the oldest continuously operating black bookstore in the country? “Alfred and Bernice, the Ligons, ran that since 1941, until it got burnt down in the Rebellion. Any way you slice it, that was unfortunate at least, if not stupidly criminal.” “A lot of people were influenced for good at an early age, by them.” “At least it came back somewhat. But there should be more readers than rappers, then more doers than readers or rappers. In South Central, there are sure enough preachers, and choirs to preach to. If only everyone knew they were royalty and acted the same, humbly serving, the land and the people, all their relations, Mexica Tahui. (All My Relations – Aztec)”

I swirled my drink in a sunwise (clockwise) motion, an affirmative action toast; “Ashe Ashe Mbele. Kplaa! (It is So, It is So, Forward-Yoruba. Success! – Klingon) to that Txai. (The other half of me).”

“Imagine if three characters in Samuel L. Jackson’s career were the same evolving person?” The Preacher asked. “If Gator Purify (Jungle Fever) could evolve through Carl Lee Hailey (A Time To Kill), into Mace Windu (Star Wars Episodes I – III).

“Hey!” I said, getting into the spirit. “I could even see an evolutionary detour between Carl Lee Hailey and Nick Fury (The Avengers). Talk about your Super Spook Who Sat In the CEO’s Chair. Nick Fury is gangsta.”

“Yes, but the practicality of what it takes to even build the onramp to the road to the Promised Land, and every step of the journey, let alone the destination, and beyond it, is daunting .” The Preacher intoned. “Crafting pyramids with the stones the Empire builders rejected. They scattered, now we must gather, move, and position them.” Start with what you can do. Liquor stores into food coops,  hardware stores, gardens, gyms, libraries, and treatment centers. Even if only in your own home, or neighborhood. Inhale. Focus on the Single Eye. Hold that vision. Exhale into the World. Relax. Let your vision guide your hands. Repeat as Necessary.

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Finding Upstanding Citizens: Juvenile Justice Needs Equity Work

This was published in the May 6th Register Guard as a media advocacy piece. I decided to break a silence. Media Advocacy is the strategic use of the media to produce a public policy change. One cultivates a relationship with the media, and using certain pegs, formats a policy initiative in the media that the policy makers read or consume. In this case in arguing for a position I held briefly, The Minority Youth Advocate, I was also arguing for the institution of demographic outcome metrics. This coupled with illuminating longstanding conditions within the department. I hadn’t been exactly wronged, except for an investigation any reasonable person might assume is an attempt to silence me. But, many people had been telling me their stories of injustice at the hands of their employers, Lane County Department of Youth Services, was only one of many employers acting like that. Budget cuts were looming for the county. It seemed like a propitious time. I sent the op-ed copy in advance of publication to each county commissioner as an attachment, and an e-mail detailing other behind the scenes facts beyond that. Naturally, of course, I heard immediately from both of the liberal county commissioners. I didn’t hear a word from the conservative majority, nor the county administrator, so far. Once the piece was published, I have heard no negative feedback, though some people were shocked. Is this true? Is Mark investigating? Uhhh No… this has actually been common knowledge among communities of color for decades. We don’t get regular columns or reporting on these issues in the paper, or the media. So if any of this is news to you….where have you been? There must be a privilege system in operation preventing your knowing about this. Be an informed Upstanding Citizen.

Finding Upstanding Citizens

Much attention is focused on bullies and bullying by individuals, the bystanders who let it happen,   and the few upstanders who speak out or act against it. What happens when institutions and systems are the bullies? This makes people working within them the bystanders,  and it makes internal whistleblowers and external concerned citizens the targeted  upstanders.

What happens when despite its best intentions, the system designed for youth development damages young people instead? Who acts as advocates for them? Youth  in the system, and the system itself, both need to be held accountable for their actions and inaction.

A mission-critical position is vulnerable to cuts proposed in Lane County’s juvenile justice system. The position of minority youth advocate was wisely put in place to advocate in particular for minority youth, who are disproportionately involved with the juvenile justice system. Perhaps even more critically, this position engages in building skills that engage youth and their families in the community, where they feel empowered.

Juvenile justice systems have been required by the federal government to address disproportionate minority contact, or DMC, since the late 1980s. I was the Lane County Department of Youth Services’ first contracted minority youth advocate,  and was part of the search committee that hired the current one.

In Lane County, the problem wasn’t simply a matter of minority youth being overrepresented in the system, but what happened once they were in the system. More than 20 years ago, before my contract as minority youth advocate,  I was asked by the NAACP to respond to data indicating DMC locally. We asked for data for alcohol and drug offenses, disaggregated by race. What the county’s own figures indicated was that white youth received treatment for addiction-related offenses within two offenses. Youth of color received no addiction treatment,  even after multiple addiction-related offenses.

County officials could not identify any clear explanation for this phenomenon. This particular health disparity is one form of institutional racism, where personal prejudice rather than the science becomes institutional policy. Treatment works in reducing crime. How else, and to whom else, do you deny standard medical treatment when it is clearly indicated? You deny it to someone you consider a criminal, someone not suffering from a preventable and treatable health condition.

So naturally, 20 years later, as part of the United Coalition of Color, we asked for before and after data showing outcomes,  disaggregated by race,  for every internal Department of Youth Services or contractor program that engages youth of color. We were refused.

This doesn’t foster trust — in fact, when you can’t produce such data and don’t require it of your contractors,  you can’t really say your programs are working,  or that you’re attempting to improve.  It gives the impression you are not serious about providing services to,  or forming relations with,  communities of color.

This is not a new problem in Lane County. I was part of a research group that found evidence in the Department of Youth Services of racial harassment of staff and youth of color in the early 1990s. The research group’s conclusions and suggestions were not implemented,  and the report was buried.

Since that report, we have also found instances of ethnic slurs used as “therapy” by youth services contractors and in some internal programs. The county recently paid close to $1.5 million settling lawsuits stemming from claims of discrimination and negligence. Youth of color also experience racial harassment in schools, communities and facilities by other youth,  community members, or staff.

If these systems are not appropriately responsive,  there is no racial stand your ground statute that protects young people from the legal consequences of justifiable physical self-defense against racial attacks — “fighting words”. Minority staff members have been themselves targeted by other staff, without effective relief. Despite operating under those conditions, the minority youth advocate acts as an effective and trusted liaison between the department and diverse communities — it is a position that should be maintained.

In the context of DMC, the youth advocate must operate within a department that itself fosters trust of communities of color through various minimum standards of data collection and reporting. The department could respond to requests for information in a timely and complete manner, and practice robust recruitment and retention in a supportive and culturally competent environment.

In tight financial times, given a historically hostile work environment where advocacy for equity is seen as troublemaking, the temptation is to eliminate dedicated minority staff regarded as troublesome, and replace them with non-minority friends, relatives or programs, without regard to the effect on services to minority youth. This would only exacerbate the problem, and would not reduce DMC.

Mark Harris is the substance abuse prevention coordinator at Lane Community College. He was the Lane County Department of Youth Services’ first contracted minority youth advocate and was part of United Coalition of Color, an advocacy group for minority youth within the local juvenile justice system.

 

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