People need to eat

I gauge a person’s capacity for compassion by what happens when the topic of food stamps comes up. The history of who is deserving of state support and who isn’t is steeped in patriarchy and white supremacy. The tension is deeper than who is deserving, the root of the tension is about who should live and who should die in America.

People need to eat, and should be able to eat good food.

Statistics about the number of non-Black Americans receiving food stamps are shouted from the roof tops by progressives and some radicals too. However, none of that matters.  Statistics hold little power when they are shared by those with less money and institutional power.

Movement of people, stories and resources toward liberation can build the power needed to change the narrative – which in turn has the power to change the law and social attitudes.

Ronald Reagan did not create the climate for Black mothers receiving state support to feed themselves and their children to be seen as unfit and undeserving. What he was successful at was packaging the “welfare queen” archetype into something palatable to a post-civil rights and Black Power movement era. White supremacists needed a contemporary image to vilify Black mothers.

Today, politicians who continue to use narratives of Black female pathology to bait voters, money and public support lack compassion. They, and those who support such ideas, fail to see Black mothers as full human beings. These oppressive ideas, often followed by actions when those who possess them have power and/or influence, create barriers to liberation.

Some questions I have:

To what extent is compassion learned and shaped?

Is it dictated or influenced by social location?

Can those who lack compassion learn how to care and act out of care?

 

What are You Willing to Ride For?

I am an avid student of history. The love I have for learning about the human experience across generations was sparked by my 11th grade 20th Century History teacher. He used one notebook full of course notes and a few books to open our minds to another mode of learning history. A course on the “Civil Rights Movement” blew up my world as a college sophomore.  Since then, I’ve thought about what choices I would have made “back then.”  What would I have done as a young Jewish girl faced with the decision to go left or right? What would I have done as a Fisk University student after hearing about the Freedom Rides? Would I have been a leader, a follower or an agitator? Would I have had the nerve to resist?

Who knows? I can’t say what I would have done. I can attest to how far I think I am willing to go and what I’m willing to fight for NOW. The Freedom Riders of the 1960’s signed their last wills and testaments before they got on the bus. They knew what was at stake. Lives were on the line. When faced with terrorism and persistent barriers to exercising full humanity, they made the choice and step out to perform what seemed impossible. They rode for their lives and the lives of their communities.

When I think about what threatens my life and the lives of my community, the oppressor and the systems are somewhat different. In Chicago and Washington, DC; there is no visible hyper-bigot present like Bull Connor. The police chiefs don’t publicly call Black people “Niggers”  or easily condone mass public displays of violence against Black people. The terrorism against communities of color is more sophisticated and done with less honesty. We have Sean Bells, Ayana Jones and Oscar Grants. The Ku Klux Klan doesn’t burn crosses and go for night rides like they used to. We have the Tea party in Congress and capitalists demanding an American President of African descent to show his papers.

While the Freedom Riders rode for basic civil rights on Greyhound buses, today’s Freedom Fighters have to ride in a different way. Public accommodations such as the bus or the lunch counter aren’t today’s challenge. Access to a quality public education, protection against violence and mass incarceration are among the current challenges. Given these challenges, the reactions of activists advocates and organizers have to evolve. We must hold on to effective methods and tactics and let go of what does not work.

I’m willing to ride for my life and the right to exercise the freedoms my ancestors already fought for. I’m willing to fight for the freedoms we have yet to obtain. I’m willing to ride so my undocumented brothers and sisters don’t have to live in fear. I’m willing to ride so little girls don’t have to grow up in a world where their womanhood and value will constantly face attacks. I’m willing to ride to end the mass incarceration of Black, Brown and poor people in America. I have the privilege and opportunity to make that choice, who am to ignore that reality?

So my question is, what are you willing to ride for?

In Case You Missed it: Why Black Women are Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women

The article below was originally posted on Psychology Today, an online publication providing “Commentary, Research and News that cover all aspects of Human Behavior.” The server crashed from sooo many hits. If I’ve learned nothing else from twitter, I’ve learned to save everything!

Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?

By Satoshi Kanazawa
Created May 15 2011 – 5:00pm

There are marked race differences in physical attractiveness among women, but not among men.  Why?Add Health measures the physical attractiveness of its respondents both objectively and subjectively.  At the end of each interview, the interviewer rates the physical attractiveness of the respondent objectively on the following five-point scale:  1 = very unattractive, 2 = unattractive, 3 = about average, 4 = attractive, 5 = very attractive.  The physical attractiveness of each Add Health respondent is measured three times by three different interviewers over seven years.

From these three scores, I can compute the latent “physical attractiveness factor” by a statistical procedure called factor analysis.  Factor analysis has the added advantage of eliminating all random measurement errors that are inherent in any scientific measurement.  The latent physical attractiveness factor has a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 1.

Recall that women on average are more physically attractive than men.  So women of all races are on average more physically attractive than the “average” Add Health respondent, except for black women.  As the following graph shows, black women are statistically no different from the “average” Add Health respondent, and far less attractive than white, Asian, and Native American women.

In contrast, races do not differ in physical attractiveness among men, as the following graph shows.  Men of all races are more or less equally less physically attractive than the “average” Add Health respondent.

This sex difference in the race differences in physical attractiveness – where physical attractiveness varies significantly by race among women, but not among men – is replicated at each Add Health wave (except that the race differences among men are statistically significant, albeit substantively very small, in Wave III).  In each wave, black women are significantly less physically attractive than women of other races.

It is very interesting to note that, even though black women are objectively less physically attractive than other women, black women (and men) subjectively consider themselves to be far more physically attractive than others.  In Wave III, Add Health asks its respondents to rate their own physical attractiveness subjectively on the following four-point scale:  1 = not at all, 2 = slightly, 3 = moderately, 4 = very.  As you can see in the following graphs, both black women and black men rate themselves to be far more physically attractive than individuals of other races.

What accounts for the markedly lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women?  Black women are on average much heavier than nonblack women.  The mean body-mass index (BMI) at Wave III is 28.5 among black women and 26.1 among nonblack women.  (Black and nonblack men do not differ in BMI:  27.0 vs. 26.9.)  However, this is not the reason black women are less physically attractive than nonblack women.  Black women have lower average level of physical attractiveness net of BMI.  Nor can the race difference in intelligence (and the positive association between intelligence and physical attractiveness) account for the race difference in physical attractiveness among women.  Black women are still less physically attractive than nonblack women net of BMI and intelligence.  Net of intelligence, black men are significantly more physically attractive than nonblack men.

There are many biological and genetic differences between the races.  However, such race differences usually exist in equal measure for both men and women.  For example, because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races.  And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness (because physical attractiveness is a measure of genetic and developmental health).  But since both black women and black men have higher mutation loads, it cannot explain why only black women are less physically attractive, while black men are, if anything, more attractive.

The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone.  Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently.  Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive.  In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive.  The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races, while (net of intelligence) black men are more physically attractive than men of other races.

A Trip to the Gynecologist

As a woman in pursuit of freedom it’s also my responsibility to help other women become free. Knowing  about my reproductive health is VERY high on my list of priorities. If you’re a woman reading this and it’s not a top priority for you, I hope it is by the time you finish reading this.  If it’s already a top priority for you, I hope these words encourage you to help another woman you care about make it hers.

Monday, I made my annual trip to the doctor for a women’s wellness exam. I wanted to get in all my visits since I turn 26 in a couple of months and will lost my health insurance at the same time. I’m not sure about other women, but I HATE going to the doctor for my annual pap smear. Despite the desire to completely avoid the whole process, I always go. The process of making the appointment, thinking about the appointment and going through the appointment can be taxing. Sitting on the table, placing your legs in the stir-ups and spreading your knees for the doctor or nurse can invoke anxiety and discomfort. Oftentimes, the  professional performing the exam can make or break your experience.

Last year’s exam was absolutely horrible. The woman performing my exam was rude and didn’t appreciate me asking questions.   I tend to ask a ton of questions, I believe in advocating for myself. It’s MY body, so why not? The office also outsourced all of its blood and STI testing, so I was told that I needed to go another office. The entire experience upset me so much. Since the age of 18, I’ve had regular exams. Many of them were performed at Planned Parenthood, and every one of them was a positive experience. Needless to say I will never ever go back to that office.

Last weeks exam was the polar opposite, I had a great experience. Now of course there is no way to get around the discomfort of someone scraping a mascara brush sized swab across your cervix, but a friendly doctor can make a huge difference. This was my first time having my annual exam performed by a male physician. I was always wary of having a man who I wasn’t intimately involved with seeing my business. The experience could not have been better. When I walked back to his office, he was extremely welcoming and actually wanted to know about me beyond what was on my chart. I made sure to tell him about my hesitation with seeing a male physician and my prior experience with a poor exam. My occupation mentioned politics so by the end of our conversation, he was convinced that  I would help him along with other DC residents get the federal vote! He even said, “Now if I do this well, you’re gonna get us a vote right?” I was laughing by the time I got to the table.

A female nurse was in the room the entire time, and the pap smear started and ended before I knew it. Right before we started the exam, the doctor explained to me that in lieu of a manual exam, he would use an ultrasound tool to view my uterus, cervix and ovaries. I was pleasantly surprised, I asked “You mean, I get to actually SEE my uterus?” I’m not sure why I was so excited, but I was! So this part of the exam required him to insert a tool that allowed him to check the health of my reproductive system. I was amazed by something that is pretty simple. He even told me which ovary was going to ovulate this month (weird right?!). The entire process was over in less than 20 minutes.

That 20 minute exam will test for HPV, a virus that can cause cervical cancer. It will also test for two of this countries most contracted STI’s, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea.  I also made sure to get a blood test for HIV/AIDS.

I’ve never been more protective over my womanhood or felt more womanly in life than I do now. I have also never been more invested in helping other women enjoy the fullness of their womanhood. Taking care of our mental and physical health is essential to protecting our entire selves. I’m know not perfect when it comes to self-care, but I’m working on it. For women of color, there are two major things we often see as barriers; 1) Stigma’s attached with going to the doctor and 2) Financial costs associated with going to the doctor.

To tackle the first, we must start talking about our health and stop living in silence. When’s the last time you talked to your girlfriends, daughters or mothers about your health? To tackle the second we must seek out and connect our sisters to low-cost and free services. If you have insurance, ask another woman in your life if she can recommend a good gyno.

As the changes come into affect, health care reform will open up new doors for women by funding more preventative services, community health centers and lowering eligibility requirements for Medicaid. Just as with many progressive legislative victories in this country, there are attacks mounting up against them. Whether it’s a call for implementing the Hyde Amendment permanently or defunding Title IV services like those provided through Planned Parenthood, there is a war against women America. As a woman of color I know that I am not alone in personal struggles. As a woman I know that I not alone in my struggle to have the freedom to choose. Change must start within.  As women, the best thing we can do is be advocates for ourselves (inside and outside the doctors office) and then go out and help our sisters do the same. Get informed, end the silence and make the choice to start today.

Still have questions about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010? Click here to read the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation report on “Understanding Health Care Reform.”

The featured image above is from the Black Women’s Health Imperative,  the only organization devoted solely to advancing the health and wellness of America’s 19.5 million Black women and girls through advocacy, community health and wellness education and leadership development. The Imperative’s website provides a wealth of information, check it out!

13 Mothers Arrested Fighting to “Win the Future”

(Photo Courtesy of The Voice of Detroit)

DETROIT – Last week, 13 girls were arrested while protesting against the closing of the Catherine Ferguson High School.  This student led action was met with the drowning of their cries with police sirens and the hauling of each young woman into police cars. Young mothers seeking a better future for themselves and their children attend Catherine Ferguson knowing of the schools high expectations and community atmosphere. They are expected to go to college and to work on the schools very successful urban farm. Yes, a farm in the middle of Detroit. The State of Michigan wants to demolish this opportunity to prevent another generation of Black mothers from having better futures. This news brought elation and disgust. The act of civil disobedience by these young mothers demonstrates both the hunger and the struggle still present in America. They decided to act against a system blatantly disinterested in their futures. The fact they they have to fight for a High School education in 2011 is deplorable.

America can not be serious about winning the future if it refuses to educate those who give birth to it.

The current Governor of Michigan and those he has appointed to manage cities like Detroit, don’t care about the future of these young women. The future they envision for the City of Detroit is not conducive to success for those living on the margins. In this context the margins are include communities of African Americans living in a city being depleted of its human and economic resources. The current emergency manager of the Detroit Public School system, Robert Bobb, is completely opposed to any home rule or leadership. Prior to the introduction of state-wide emergency rule, he vocalized his contempt for locally elected school boards.

Bobb along with other state leadership want to close Catherine Ferguson and more than 50 other schools in Detroit.  Under Public Act 4, Gov. Rick Snyder (Republican), gave all emergency managers the power to “reject, modify, or terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing collective bargaining agreement.”  Earlier, this month all of DPS’s 5,466 unionized employees were laid off.   Bobb now has the power to completely destroy the Detroit teachers contract. His next move will test the current law and the will of people, organizations and institutions touting a mission to achieve social justice. The local government has lost its power.

The plight of these young mothers in Detroit is much like that of low-income children across the nation. The plight of those who teach them is much like that of teachers across America. Their futures are being bargained and determined by individuals not invested in inclusive change. The past couple of months have brought mass protest and actions across America in support of collective bargaining (unions) rights and access to reproductive health services. The country is undergoing a time of great tension, separation and unity. Given this, where is the battle-cry for Detroit? Where is the national call for action to support students like those arrested to save Catherine Ferguson High School. Where is the national call for action to support the teachers without secure means to support their families? Moments in time like this test the will of the people and the people of Detroit are not sitting idly by. These moments also test the talk of organizations receiving millions of dollars each year to secure access to education and protect the rights of workers.

Where are they now, in this moment when so much is at stake?

I judge my own actions and those of  others claiming to be freedom fighters in moments like these. I wept while viewing the footage of the young mothers arrest. If we don’t speak out and fight for the most vulnerable as they are attacked by the most vicious, then what are our words or actions worth?

Both Sides of Fear

Fear rushes in. So does love…when we allow it.

There are moments, distinct moments in my life when I can remember fear rushing in. The mixture of self-doubt, anxiety and despair has created a state of consciousness void of good sense many times. When fear decides to rear its highly unattractive head, I almost always have physical reactions.

My chest tightens.

My hands refuse to be still.

My stomach flips.

My mind races a million miles an hour.

There are also mental reactions. Those are often the worst. I easily forget everything else going on in my life. I forget the times where I’ve shown great resiliency despite the blockade between success and me. If you follow The Freedom Pages, you know that I’m from the South side of Chicago and grew up in streets that would be happy to have me back in shambles. Despite all of that, I have no iron shield guarding me from fear. When I express fear to some of the people who know me the best, it’s often met with shock. I often hear “Girl, you have nothing to worry about” or “You’re afraid of something, wait YOU? Huh?” Folks who know me in limited capacities respond in similar ways. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that I do some crazy stuff; things a lot of people are afraid of doing.

When I think about what creates fear in my life, a couple of things are constant.

1. Building love in intimate relationships.

2. Trainings/Presentations (Weird right? I do that for a living)

3.  Visiting my home city of Chicago. (Anxiety producing like a mug)

4. Driving (Too many bad experiences with cars, I’ll talk about those in my autobiography one day)

I’m still learning myself. While who I am and what I want in life are grounded in a set of values, how I apply them is often a struggle. As a young Black woman in living in 21st century America, I carry a peoples history and a mission with me. The place of fear in my experiences is one I am both uncomfortable with and struggling with right now. What do I go after and what do I leave alone? What decision is best for me, even though it’s not JUST about me?

I stepped out on good faith and hard work this year. I left a full-time job and decided I would work independently. My goal is to have my own for-profit business, training institute and political action committee one day. I’m taking baby steps now to see both of those come to light. Just as fear paralyzes, it can move you. I am deathly afraid of returning to the streets I walked as a child as a failure or as someone who has lost all hope and optimism. I am moved by what I see everyday on the streets of Washington, DC and what I saw growing up in Chicago. Not much has changed in the neighborhoods I grew up in. Those realities moves me to want to do something. The reality of this world moves me to be a catalyst for change. My pursuit of freedom, love and justice meets and will continue to meet both sides of fear. I have the power to choose which side I allow to be present. Where I say no to fear, I’m working on saying yes to love. Like most things in life, working on loving more and fearing less is a journey; not a single destination.

My question to you is, what moves YOU?

To share, drop a comment below. BUT only if you are moved to do so.

Rude Awakening

Have you ever woken up from an amazing dream to a reality not so amazing? You know one where your deepest desires were playing out; you could feel, smell and taste it in your dream?

Well imagine that dream is freedom from slavery and attaining political power. In 1892 255 African Americans were lynched across the United States. The amount of lynchings that year were unprecedented.  The lynching of three Black men in Memphis, Tennessee had a significant impact on the life  and activism of Ida B. Wells. Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and Henry Stewart  and were killed because they posed an economical threat on neighboring White business owners. The success of their business, the “People’s Grocery,”  breed deep resentment among White business owners. A group of White men attacked the store one night while a large group of Black men were present. Shots were fired and White men were injured. The local press went into a frenzy, slandering the reputations on the business owners. The three owners along with one hundred Blacks were charged with conspiracy. After being jailed, they were dragged out and killed. These events, as told by Paula Giddings in her book “When and Where I Enter,” (1996) were the “climax of ugly events.”

During the Reconstruction period many African Americans lived under a state of prosperity. This period brought great economical and political success. However this period was undercut by a backlash of oppressive laws in the South targeting Black people. The right to vote was systemically stripped away from Black men (women were still fighting for the vote) and there were no federal laws addressing racially motivated terrorism and murder. Segregation was not only a cultural norm, it was becoming the legal standard.  The advancement of a formerly enslaved people threatened the identities and status of many Whites in America. As a result, they struck back with terrorism and legalized oppression. However, many Blacks still had faith in the legal system charged with protecting the citizens of the United States. People actually believed that the terrorism wreaked upon Black communities was not endorsed by the state, that it was instead the product of resentment by poorer Whites. For Wells, the 1892 lynchings were a “rude awakening” (Giddings, 1996). These events led her to lead a full journalism assault and expose the false vilification and mass terrorism of African people in America.

Now that we have the brief history lesson out of the way, lets get to 2011. We still live in an age where folks believe in achieving the “American Dream”. We are also now living in times of prosperity for few and hardship for many. We live in times where the wealthiest 5% of Americans control over 60% of the wealth in this country. We have a Black president in the White House and over 2.3 million people behind bars. Over 40% of Black youth are unemployed and the rights of women are being used as political bartering tools. Civil rights are once again undergoing a systemic dismantling process. This time Black folks are not the only targets; the poor, non-male, non-Christian and non-economically stable are firmly under the gun. Just last week the Texas House voted to require all eligible voters to have ID in order to vote. This measure may seem small, but it will impact low-income and voters of color severely. Masked in false claims of voter fraud, the Republicans are; as young organizer I know says, “creating wars on issues that don’t exist.”

These fairy tale narratives of voter fraud are much like those used against Black men and women post-reconstruction. Black men were depicted as hyper-sexual brutes preying on White women. Black women were once again being painted as harlots out to seduce otherwise well-behaved White men. Those perceptions were used to justifying the systemic stripping of rights, resources and humanity of people.

The gospel of prosperity for all if we work hard enough and make sacrifices is another fairy tale being sold to the middle class.  What sacrifices are we asking to make while the countries largest corporation, General Electric, makes none? GE grossed $5.1 billion in US profits and paid not one cent in taxes. Something is wrong there.

To be blunt, the tactics of the political conservative are outright slick. They are launching an assault on the institutions and freedoms men and women fought for tirelessly through various social movements. It snuck up on some, but for those paying attention; it’s not a surprise. Democrats knew on November 4th 2008 that an assault was being readied. The voting machines weren’t even cooled before a plan was set in motion. We lost in 2010 and lost big. The Republicans now control the House and are working to pass legislation to demolish women’s reproductive rights instead of creating jobs for the nearly 14 million unemployed people in America.

The Memphis lynchings served as a catalyst for Ida B. Wells work as a lifelong activist and journalist. They sparked a fire that lead her to embark on an unprecedented and unmatched public education campaign to end terrorism against African Americans. Something close to home woke Wells up.

I believe many Americans are slowly waking up and realizing that the American Dream is an illusion, but we need more. The promises made by those who already attained material wealth are slowly revealing themselves as lies. Whether its the stripping of collective bargaining rights (unions) or the mass incarceration of Black and Latino people; American’s must awaken. Watching the revolutions of other countries and romanticizing over the change we want to make will get us nowhere. We have to decide what “change” and “progress” looks like and not just pay lip service. Not everyone will take to the streets, but everyone can do something.

If you are still sleeping, what would jostle you out of your sleep? What would it take to get you to act, to contribute? There is a lot at stake, my last question is, are you willing to wake up and see it?

The War on (Black) Women

All war is based on deception

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

 

When you see the face of the little Black girl above, what do you think? When you read the words above her beautiful curly hair, how do you feel? When you think of Black women and their role in birthing the next generation, what do you invision; danger or an opportunity to build?

The billboard above was placed in SoHo, a neighborhood in New York City not heavily populated by Black people. After seeing it my first question was “why not Harlem or Brooklyn?” Basically why not somewhere where they KNOW Black people who live in New York City will actually see the ad? Well, I can take an educated guess; the ad wasn’t meant for Black women. It was meant to provoke reactions. It was also meant to galvanize people outside of the Black community, basically gain more troops. Fortunately the ad has been taken down. When I first read the ads caption, I thought about my body and why they felt it was the most dangerous place in the world. African women were the first to give birth into this world. How dare they shame us into believing we are less than because we have a right to choose? If the ad meant to empower and educate Black women, it wouldn’t have to attempt to shame us at the same time.

As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “All war is based on deception.”The war on (Black) women is no different. The use of deceptive and offensive images such as the one below from Atlanta, should be considered an act of war. Propaganda is an act of war. We have to see the bigger picture.

BUT these images are only one piece in an intricate web being tightly woven by the politically and socially conservative factions in America. The most recent attacks are hitting women through legislation and media campaigns.

The recent Republican to do list is heavy on reducing women’s rights and light on addressing the toughest economical issues we face today. Attempting to redefine rape is a higher priority than reducing the 16%+ unemployment rates in Black communities. Preventing a doctor from performing a life saving procedure when a woman’s life is at stake is more important than figuring out how not to close half of Detroit’s public schools.  As a Black woman deeply invested in my own freedom and the freedom of my people, I am simply appalled.

The all hands on deck assault of women can be found across the nation, on the state level and in the United States Congress. Click here to read a blog post by Executive Director of the Black Women’s Health Imperative giving a breakdown of the legislative battle ahead of us. House Republicans have already passed an amendment to defund family planning and reproductive services from providers such as Planned Parenthood. I personally remember going to Planned Parenthood as a college student to receive low-cost and quality healthcare services. The loss of their services and others would severly impact women.

Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood is not the only provider lined up against the wall with weapons aimed squarely at their mission and services. The Republicans are also trying to cut Headstart, a federally funded preschool program for low-income kids, by 1 billion dollars. If you are a low-income mother depending on childcare through this program and POW it’s gone, what choices would you be faced with? Work to feed your kids and pay your bills or stay at home and depend on state services?

Definition of rape + Choice + Childcare = all things on the list of enemies for the politically and socially conservative faction aiming it’s weapons at women.

But we are not walking like sheep to the slaughter. We can, are and must act.

Since I’m not a 501 (c) 3 organization, I can say “Call your Representative and find out where they stand on these issues.” If they don’t stand on the side of women, tell them they need to reconsider and why. Click here to find out who represents you!

Like I said this is a war on women, and a war on women is a war on the future of this country.

Wanna know and do more? Check out organizations like Sister SongChoice USA, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and Advocates for Youth.

Don’t forget to drop a comment below!

Let the Oppressed Speak for Themselves

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were all lynched during in 1964 while working to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi. The three activist were apart of a larger campaign to register African American voters in Mississippi’s Freedom Summer. This campaign was a threat to the status quo. Their deaths symbolize the risks activists faced during that time and the significance of allies in the movement. The two Jewish activists from New York died alongside a Black activist from Mississippi.

They died serving a movement firmly grounded in removing social and political barriers for African Americans. They served as allies. Jewish Americans and other White Americans made great contributions to the Civil Rights Movement as allies and leaders in their own communities. Leadership of throughout broader movement was owned by Blacks.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an ally and what it means to be a leader. As an activist across movements, I often find myself serving as an ally. Whether it was an action supporting access to higher education or one to pass the DREAM Act, I have stood in solidarity with activists on issues not directly affecting me. As an organizer, I’ve been tasked with bringing leaders together around a certain cause or issue. As a leader I have served as a voice on issues affecting women, youth and the African Diaspora. I’ve also seen some amazing allies contribute in invaluable ways to movements while respecting their roles as allies and not leaders.

So whats the difference between an ally and a leader? Well this question made more sense to me after sitting in on a session at the Center for Progressive Leadership this past weekend. I’d just finished up facilitating a session on different forms of power and what they mean in the overall progressive movement. The segway into an ally discussion was perfect. Oftentimes individuals care about a plethora of issues. The reality however is that we cannot work on every single issue. We can not take up every fight, we can not own every fight. This is why being an ally and having allies is so important. Three of the key takeaways from the session were:

  • Allies don’t speak FOR other people, but try to make space for people to speak for themselves
  • Allies have less less to lose than the community or person they are aligning themselves with
  • Allies walk the walk, they don’t just talk the talk

I am an ally to many movements, but only strive to be a leader when I can provide authentic ownership.

In progressive spaces I often work with allies who elevate themselves to leadership positions. When you have less at stake than the group you’ve aligned yourself with, I think you should proceed with caution and deference. Now, this concept is harder for me to digest in some spaces. As a Black person, I’m not confused when it comes to who can lead or make key decisions in a movement for my freedom. People identifying and living as Black can and should. That makes sense to me. As a feminist, I’m encountering a different struggle.  I struggle with men who assert their leadership and intellectual position as feminists. I’m questioning what the role of men can be and should be in the movement to end gender-based discrimination towards women. Yes, we need you as allies. We need you to work with other men, open minds and build relationships based on mutual respect.

When men jump to say “we’re also oppressed under this patriarchal system,” I don’t disagree with that. Men are affected by patriarchy in real and oppressive ways.  I just ask that you see past your oppression and serve as allies in a movement to achieve equality and fairness. Can we have our space as women, seeking liberation for women? I demand that we must. Feminism is for everybody, the movement has room for everybody. Build new spaces instead of seeking to own ours. I ask that you build with other men. We need you as allies, to stand in solidarity, not as leaders.We have the ability to speak for ourselves, we need you to speak to men as men. We cannot do this alone.

Oppressed groups have the ability to speak for themselves, they need allies to stand in solidarity. Let the oppressed speak for themselves, trust that they can and support them when they do.

The Audacity of Apathy

Thousands of birds falling from the sky.

Rates of homelessness rising everyday.

Earthquakes.

Gross acts of domestic terrorism.

Millions of people unemployed, uneducated and unheard.

Where is the outrage? What is happening to this world?

Oh the Audacity of Apathy.

This week marked the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the assassination of  Patrice Lumumba. People across the globe remarked on the significance of these two men and the overall fight for freedom. While they both lived in two different parts of the world under different conditions; the systems of oppression were very similar. The fact that an individual could be killed because of an ability to mobilize, ignite and agitate people into action was dangerous. These two men put their lives on the line for a freedom neither would live to see. They had the audacity to dream, to fight and to sacrifice; where can we find that audacity today?

Malcolm X, a leader I continue to learn more about, once said that Patrice Lumumba was “the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent. He didn’t fear anybody. He had those people [the colonialists] so scared they had to kill him. They couldn’t buy him, they couldn’t frighten him, they couldn’t reach him.” Malcolm X was a self-educated man, he didn’t attend college. He knew more then than I know now, I want to know what Malcolm knew. I now have the privilege and opportunity to know even more. Our access to information my generation holds is unparalleled. We have a responsibility to harness it and USE it to transform our communities. In Washington, DC alone I can be in a room with 100 Black people and every single one of them will likely have one, two or three degrees. Unfortunately, possessing degrees does not equate to possessing intellectual fortitude and the empathy to build power in our communities across the country. We need more self-education and ownership over our formal educations. Education facilitated by those not invested in our communities, not from our communities nor based on the narratives of our communities; breeds apathy.

Inaction is consent.

We simply can not be comfortable with the status quo. Thinking about reality is tough and apathy is numbing. The audaciousness of apathy allows Black communities to boast the highest incarceration rates, the lowest graduation rates and continue a cycle where some “make it” while most never will. It’s not enough for me to be able to succeed if my cousin can’t even read. How dare I?  It’s not enough for me to gain access to resources and knowledge if I never open the door wider for the next young Black person. How dare I? I do not face the danger of being lynched for picking up a book, how dare I not pursue self- education? How dare I not do so with great fervor and an unrelenting spirit?

What is our responsibility? What is our duty?

I’ve internalized the idea of consent through action and inaction.  Whether  you give consent through the ballot or by staying home, you’ve made a choice. Your choice impacts what the results of the election are regardless of whether you entered the booth or not. Whether you give consent to the violence running rampant in your community or not, you’ve made a choice. Your choice impacts the safety and mental health of your community regardless of whether you choose to speak out against violence or not. Whether you give consent because of fear or profit, you’ve made a choice.

Choosing to be apathetic in the face of so much blatant disrespect for life is perhaps one of the most audacious acts I see everyday. Our leaders display apathy each time they speak-out late or simply decide not to speak at all. Our people lack a collective consciousness of our struggle. Our people lack self-love. Our world lacks love.

The Audacity of Apathy in the face of so much is deadly. We cannot afford the luxury of apathy regardless of individual wealth or success. We will rise together or we will fall together. Only we have that choice to make.