Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I want to talk to you about language.

I want to talk to you about the words we choose and what they mean and how carefully and lovingly we should wield them, especially in these delicate, volatile times when there is so much repair work to be done and so little room for new damage. We are stretched thin and the only way to reach out to one another is gently, carefully, and with mindfulness. Remember: words are powerful. They manifest our realities in many ways. The words we hear and use inform our perception, and too often we toss them around thoughtlessly without fully exploring their meanings and connotations.
I am saying this because I have noticed that a lot of white folks truly believe that because they have never used the "N" word, they have never employed racist or racially-insensitive verbiage, and are genuinely indignant at any suggestion otherwise. I'm talking about the well-intended white folks who claim and genuinely believe they "do not have a racist bone in their body" and yet get on board readily with the rhetoric surrounding Mike Brown and what he did or did not "deserve" based on the perception of him.
With the advent of so-called "political correctness", there has been less and less tolerance for overtly racist language, and so, no, in civilized society, we definitely don't accept or condone use of the "N" word anymore. When people used that word freely back in the day, it was clear to all what was meant by it: it was used by white people to relegate a black person's status to "less-than"; even in the absence of overt malice, its intent was always to devalue and reduce. Later, as it lost favor among polite society, the intent behind its use was (is) to vilify, dehumanize, and to openly express contempt.
But since as a society we have basically agreed that it is no longer acceptable to use such overtly offensive language, I have noticed that in place of this one taboo word, there are now several other words we can get away with using which convey basically the same thing.
Specifically I want you to consider the word "thug" and what you mean when you use it, and the connotations it conjures in the mind of your audience.
The actual definition of this word:
Thug (\ˈthəg\) *noun*
1. a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer.
So, by definition, any number of people of any background could be described as "thugs", right? But today, what people usually mean when they toss the word "thug" around is very specific. Generally, when we hear "thug" it is referring to a young, urban black male who may embody any, all, or none of the following stereotypical behaviors: listens to rap music (too loud), is dressed in a particular fashion (possibly with sagging pants), who may or may not sell drugs (but probably smokes weed) and who may (probably) have a (illegal) gun. This person is presumed to live outside of the law and to either be a criminal or a potential criminal. This person is assumed to be undereducated, under-or-unemployed, and, of course, unduly aggressive. Please note that it is not always used to describe how this person is actually living, however, because that person need not actually BE a "thug" by definition. He need only be perceived as one by these unreliable cues we rely on (loud rap music, sagging pants, etc).
White Americans (and some black Americans too) disapprove of so-called "thugs". We are afraid of them. Unfortunately, this fear renders us unable to see each person as an individual. It allows us to dehumanize through judgment and disapproval. Because when we have decided someone is a "thug", our conscience has already concluded that this person is expendable by presuming he is "dangerous". So by extension, whatever befalls him is his own doing because he was a "thug" and therefore probably deserved it.
It seems to me that "thug" is the new catch-all word that is used to appease our collective conscience when we consider what happened to Mike Brown, as in, "Well, he was a thug; what do you expect?" as though by reducing him to that, we can collectively wash our hands of the whole unpleasant ordeal. As if by committing to the narrative that he was an inherently dangerous "thug," we can render his death and the outrage it sparked irrelevant.
In the context of right now, our collective comfort with this term reeks of respectability politics and victim-blaming. It is loaded with judgment. People are using it to describe those "looting and rioting" in Ferguson, and feeling very righteous in doing so (because looting) without critically engaging in any of this…but then also applying it uncritically and imprecisely to any black person who isn't adhering to the sartorial or behavioral rules of polite (white) society, even when we have no idea whether that person is actually a "cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer."

So the problem for me is that it is a lazy, reductionist term that simply serves to allow distance between that person's humanity and our own. It's just a new and politically correct way to express contempt and disregard for people who aren't like us. Basically, it's the new, socially-acceptable "N" word, and I submit that we need to eradicate it from the discourse if we are ever going to be able to get anywhere.

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Black on black crime" is not a thing, either.

Here is a link to an article: 

Here is what I think about it: 

Why is this still even a topic that comes up? I'm going to say what a lot of other people are saying right now but which apparently not everyone is willing to grapple with: so-called "Black-on-Black crime" is not a disparate thing that can be accurately delineated from any other kind of crime. It's just another spin designed to correlate Blackness with violence. What people who trot out this argument fail to also acknowledge is the fact that *intraracial* violence is the standard- white people kill white people, black people kill black people, etc. This happens organically, based largely on proximity (which because we are such a segregated nation often means people of similar race/class backgrounds live near one another) and is often over allocation of "resources" (whatever those resources may be). To divert attention from the issues at hand (which include police brutality, excessive force, racial profiling) by insisting that the REAL problem is intrinsic to the community which in this case is the one being victimized/targeted is just another way to deny culpability and enforce white supremacy. We NEVER TALK ABOUT- indeed have never even named- "White-on-White" crime. You know why? Because it too is not a thing even though pretty much all white-perpetrated violent crime is committed with other white people as victims, and even though WHITE PEOPLE ARE JUST AS VIOLENT AS ANYONE ELSE, INCLUDING BLACK PEOPLE, EVEN *gasp* BLACK MEN. The extent to which white privilege permeates our culture is glaringly reflected in this missing verbiage. That is to say, we don't call it "white-on-white" crime, ostensibly because we are individual snowflakes and so nothing we do reflects on other white people. We are not a collective or a monolith, but we are quite certain that black people are.
One woman quoted in this article tweeted accurately: "Dear Rudy Giuliani, when talking about police shootings of blacks, changing the topic to Bad Stuff Black Folks Do Too is beyond offensive."
**Also (sort of an aside but it's something I have been thinking about): If we are not a fundamentally white supremacist culture (as many would like to believe in modern times) then how is nothing made of the fact that basically all serial killers in the history of America are white men? Why is there no mass hysteria regarding how "scary" white men are, considering they are the ones most likely to commit planned, heinous, sadistic crimes? How do we collectively not recognize how intellectually disingenuous it is to name one thing but willfully ignore the correlative other thing? It's astonishing, really: the extent to which white supremacy is ingrained in our culture and how readily we accept it as truth, when really, one critical question begets another critical question and before you know it, the whole thing unravels and underneath is a giant pile of bullshit.

End rant.

Monday, November 17, 2014


If your life experience is such that you trust that you can reasonably expect the legal system to work on your behalf, and you have had mostly if not entirely pleasant experiences with police, and you have faith in the justice system to fairly grant you due process, and you expect that you will be treated with respect by most authority figures most of the time, and you think that generally speaking, America is a pretty friendly place to be, AND you can with some assurance assume most of the people you love have had similar life experiences, then I can understand why the events of the past couple of months are confusing if not downright mind-boggling.

For someone whose worldview is skewed by privilege- which is what this perspective is informed by whether we fully appreciate it or not- it doesn't make sense. And to be perfectly honest, I can probably say that all of the above is true of my own personal lived experience, and if I left it at that level of understanding, I might be just as confused as so many other people about what in the hell is this #‎FergusonOctober stuff about.

But I'm not, and here is why: I'm trying. I'm intentionally engaging in understanding and keeping updated on what is happening, and I'm reading articles and blog posts and status updates, and I'm talking with strangers in coffee shops, and I'm getting deep and uncomfortable with good friends, and I'm checking myself at every turn to make sure I'm at the very least paying attention so that I can speak in an informed way on this stuff, because that is a role that suits me.

I'm not saying you need to go out and rally. I just want you all to engage a little bit and challenge whatever preconceived notions you have. I get that many of us have police officers in our lives that we love, and that can make us feel torn on this matter. But it's entirely plausible that you can love and respect individual cops, and still recognize and acknowledge that the system- at every level- is skewed to the disadvantage of a large swath of the population, specifically young black men. That's what this is about.

I don't know what solution will feel right to you, but my solution personally is to intentionally look beyond my own lived experience to see what the people around me are experiencing. Getting out of my feelings of indignation or defensiveness and just bearing witness to what other people's lives have been like. Because injustice harms all of us in the long run. And because the daily lived experience of racism and oppression and injustice routinely wounds the spirits of people I deeply love. If someone you love is being harmed, and you don't say or do anything about it, you are complicit in the harm that befalls them. Personally, the worst thing someone could say about me is that I lacked the courage to speak up for what's right.

Anyone can feel free to message me, and I won't think your questions or concerns are silly; I'm telling you: I WANT to talk to people who don't get it for whatever reason, and try to help them connect the dots and begin to understand what all of this is about. Being white has a million advantages, most of which we are entirely unconscious of; one of them is the mobility to move amongst other white people and to say things with authority and without the risk of being delegitimized by accusations of "playing the race card".

I'd like to say I'm sorry for belaboring this stuff, but that would be disingenuous. I'm not even a little bit sorry. This is important, regardless of how you feel about the specific events. It matters that we keep talking about it. Black lives do matter, and that core belief is the heart and soul of the protests that are continuing to disrupt business as usual here in STL. Let me know if you want to talk about it.