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Aretha

My dear sista Aretha, I so mourn your transition.  Song by song I play, tribute by tribute I read.  I grieve in sorrow and glory. Daily, my tears run for the poignant and profound touch of you upon us.  The pain and tenderness in your loving, soul baring voice. The ferocious clarity of timbre about what we — women, Black folks, and anyone deserve in relationships.  Respect.   The actions you took in its name for you and for us.  I soar, reading that you insisted on being paid up front, cash money.  Go on sista, I say!  Go on me! I swell, reading you offered to put up Angela Davis’ bail, back in the day.  I think you all kept that down low, understandably, because I never heard tell, and I followed Angela and George Jackson at the time.

I Say a Little Prayer For You my sista, as you join the ancestral spirits, that you know the magnitude of your gifts delivered here.  That you rejoice in knowing they will be here for all time, all generations.

As the weeks go by I will drink from and cry to the deep well of songs you bequeathed us.  I will sing along with some, their words imprinted in my body, remembering the places and people that accompanied them. Others, I will hear for the first time.

My dear Aretha, I run over with the majesty of you, and  I Don’t Want to Lose this Dream either.

Thank you for raising it up, holding it down.

Boundaries and Shamelessness

Boundaries are a key theme of oppression.  They can be taken for granted by those in visibly privileged identities.  It is presumed they will be respected.  If not, the right to reinforce them directly or through agencies of control is assumed and acted upon.  For those of us visibly among the marginalized, our boundaries are tissue paper, to be trampled on at the discretion of the empowered.  This has been playing out forever and today.  The now established borders of the U.S. are held with sanctity because they were established by the ancestors of White men and held by their offspring.  The violation of the boundaries of African and Indigenous land and people to fashion this territory matter not.  The violaters claim to be the violated, the upholders of law.  But it’s plain to see who is being assaulted and traumatized, as Brown people’s children are taken away, with no care, no system of ensuring reunification. It is clear who are the takers, that everything is for their taking, their elevation, their rewriting, the stomping of their boots. And I see no shame.

President ’45’ is only the pus head, because the infection is widespread among our government representatives — silence while children are poisoned in Flint, former DEA agents now on pharmaceutical payrolls, former DEA folks turned draftee(s) of legislation to hamstring prosecution of pharmaceutical companies that pushed opioids like a goldrush, lobbies for corporations that want more freedom to poison our water, air, earth, to control what beans get planted, to keep us from knowing what food is genetically modified, to flood us with guns. Money, money, money, money — above all else.  I believe what I see, no shame among them.

This is what I want to hear from those galloping proud with no integrity, no courage to stand against callousness and dehumanization.  Speak of your shamelessness.  Of when there’s only you and the moon, in the quiet of night, how it is to be a shell of a human being.

In the meantime, I will honor no shame visited upon me by the shameful. I will continue to be inspired by Bryan Stevenson, whose Just Mercy, I am reading, and many others, whose souls are so loving and fierce. I will find my way past tears to act for the vulnerable families seeking freedom here from terror, only to be snatched up in terror’s new clutches.

Savannah and “The Weeping Time”

I’m soon off on a family trip to Savannah, Georgia.  I’ve never been there before, but have heard it’s beautiful, similar to Charleston, and a former port where Africans who survived the Middle Passage were delivered.  When I google Savannah for things to do, there is no mention of this port as a gateway to slavery.  Among the suggested top ten things to do, nothing related to slavery appears.  I must google Savannah and slavery.  That is where I find reference to a 2014 article in the Atlantic detailing one of the largest, if not the largest, auction of enslaved men, women and children in the U.S.  It happened in 1859 in Savannah.  It was known as The Weeping Time, and it is evident who named it so.

It is said to have taken place over two days of a weekend, and through it all, the sky drenched the earth.  In 2008, this  race course where it happened, two miles away from the center of Savannah, was commemorated with a plaque.  I plan to see it. Advertisements for the auction said 440 enslaved people would be up for bid.  Records say 436 human beings were sold.  As mules, intrusively examined before hand.

Knowing about The Weeping Time I feel that much more held by Bryan Stevenson, the Black attorney and author of Just Mercy, who is marking every location where an African-American body hung mutilated, from a tree. In the surrounds, faces and voices of hatred rejoicing.  But this will not be the last word, image or feeling.  We, the community of the beloved, will witness these involuntary sacrifices with love and sorrow.

The Weeping Time  takes me to the Trail of Tears and to tusks piled for transit, severed from their left behind mothers and fathers. Takes me to tsunamis we have found a tree limb to hold on to, or have succumbed, our bodies bloated, lifeless floats.

I honor this legacy holding both the sorrow and the beauty of what my ancestors made possible, sacrifices I dare not fail to treasure.  April in Savannah, 80 plus degrees warm, friendly sidewalks that beckon, the joy of family togetherness, my grandson’s first visit to a zoo.  Respite taking. Gratitude making.  I am alive, and my children and grandchild(ren) will go on, embodying the hopes and dreams spun by my ancestors, the thread well-kept, and golden.

Accountability: Hard to Get, But We Must Insist, Persist

Accountability. We hear this word repeatedly in the public arena. At minimum, it means bearing responsibility for personal and institutional actions that harm others, by way of a penalty and/or reparations to those harmed, or if killed, their family members. Ideally, it means owning one’s perpetration as well.

Yet time and again, we are faced with institutions, and the empowered people in them, acting to shield perpetrators from taking responsibility. Whether we look at the Catholic Church, the prosecution of police officers who murder the unarmed, or Michigan State University, we see that the powerful ignore, deny-lie about the reports and evidence of assaults on human beings whose lives are cheapened. Whose lives are so trivialized that whatever morality there may be institutionally and personally goes on override. What matters to the empowered is the perpetuation of an image. What matters is that contracts don’t dry up because of bad publicity, that the institution incurs no stain, loses no athlete who drives the money train to the institution, experiences no shame.

The bodies of children, females, Black, Brown, gay and trans people have no boundaries to be respected. These are the actions that repeat. Even as words proclaiming equity, liberty and justice for all, and God-fearing, fill mission statements, speeches, prayers, ads and conversations-light.

Empowered by “Me too,” 160 young women have given voice in Court as to the impact of Dr. Nasser’s sexual molestation. They broke open the sham of Michigan State’s dismissal of allegations of young women years earlier, based on their in-house review.  These women crumbled the University walls sealing off the truth and understand all too well that the problem is not confined to Dr. Nasser. The booting of the President of Michigan State is an easy, though appropriate start to accountability. All those who laid bricks, who took the words of Nasser’s cohort of physicians rather than those of the female students must be held accountable too.

And what about the kind of accountability that requires those who knowingly abandon victims to predators to sit with the spiritual vacancy within them? Can we expect that?

What we know for sure is that Frederick Douglas had it right. Power accedes to nothing but demand.

Surviving this Age of ’45’: A Mental and Physical Health Issue Too

The Age of ’45’ is a traumatic assault on all of us who have lived, breathed, worked and bled for social justice. By that I mean, the desire for all of humanity to be recognized and valued, to occupy the center. The desire for systems of domination to be dismantled and for the travesties they have inflicted to be owned and cared about, such that reparations and healing can occur. Yes, many of us have become even more determined in our anti-oppression efforts, some have become active in a way like never before, but it is also true that move after move of ’45’ and all those who support him can create profound grief and rage that can disable us in moments and weigh heavily. We cannot underestimate this. Continue reading “Surviving this Age of ’45’: A Mental and Physical Health Issue Too”

The Face of Terrorism – October 31, 2017

Terrorism is a label for only people of color, it seems.  The Las Vegas shooter, a middle class White male, who killed 58 people, doesn’t qualify. The search for mental illness spun its wheels for him with no trail of such bread crumbs to emerge.  Did it occur to anyone other than me that the Uzbekistan man who killed eight people this afternoon could be mentally ill?  Maybe he isn’t. Probably he isn’t.  But it bothers me, these automatic assumptions, these automatic privileges of not being labelled terrorist for some.

The highly promulgated notion that 911 was the first act of terrorism on U.S. soil is another snapshot of American life that erases the experiences of Black people and the KKK, the burning of Tulsa, the erasure of the town of Rosewood.  We have the organization Black Lives Matter precisely because they don’t.

It is a sad day in NYC today, the sudden and unretrievable losses some families will sleep or not sleep with tonight. And if by some good fortune they do find sleep, there is the awakening in the morning, the punch of re-awakening to their world with a gaping hole that will not go away.   The media pimps will be out scavenging the stories, the mayor says “it was a particularly cowardly act,” words I hear men say at times like these, empty macho name calling, ego leading when heart is needed.

Woud it help if we called ourselves cowards when we bomb unarmed civilians in another part of the world, people erased by the term collateral damage? No, but perhaps the recognition that other lives matter besides our own, and that we are and have been murderers too would bring more humility, honesty and clarity to how we respond.

It is a sad day in so many places in the world, in so many places in this City, on a would be lovely fall day, the end of October.