GF 1619-2020

G.F. 1619-2020
by M. L. Graham

Ask
and ask
and then ask
why we can't breathe
why we can't see each other
in 'we'
at least not officially
why whenever we speak of history
it's dotted with caveats
inclusive I's
exclusive we's
narrating our story
while we can't breathe
ask why
grown men holler momma
eighteen months after she's passed
eight minutes before we do, too
which we know thanks to a seventeen
year old --
or so we're told
or so we're shown.
ask why
slave patrols kept their colors
their vicious dogs
their strikes like bloodhounds
unerringly cracking black spines
black kidneys
black arteries
until we can't breathe
Who's in control of the city?
Why we riot whenever we bleed?
Why we get asked to trust
those who've robbed our best,
robbed our breath?
Why black anyways,
isn't that the mark of a slave?
why not call me by my name?
There's nothing black about me
that wasn't left by brutality,
boots, batons, knees,
the hearts of those who refuse to hear my pleas.
ask, and ask why
ask until you hear your voice in
every preacher's cries
ululations, protestations,
hymns
parched and inflected
pitched and hoarse,
ask again
ask why you think riots
are uncalled for
when injustice is ringing
when the police who cleared the
streets
were still writing
false reports in our names
signed by the silent
coauthored by the medic
who backed our killer's tale
before they thought we knew.
I don't want your stores
or their windows
your streets strewn with broken glass
your loot,
we want to breathe,
like Eric Garner, Rodney King,
Philando Castile, Freddy,
Tamir, George, Brianna,
You & Me
Ask why
I had to write this
for 'We the People'
it's not for a cause
it's because 'it' happened again
and again
and again
and I'm not sure what 'we'
means anymore
they want prison for the perps
I want justice for all
they want harsher charges
I want a sweeter liberty
we can't have both
but we can have neither
ask why it seems that's what
we've got.
Ask why you think
peaceful protests are best
we had those three years ago,
at Trump's inauguration
at his appointment of Gorsich,
at the Kavanaugh hearings,
the Mueller findings
the Impeachment proceedings,
and yet Manafort is free,
as is Stone,
Sheriff Arapaio,
Giuliani & Co.,
and of course Trump is
still president
the glory of peaceful protests!
like flowers at a cancelled wedding,
like Floyd's nonresistence.
"Just be calm," he whispered
"I can't breathe," he replied
and peaceful crowds were dispersed
helicopters hovered
tear gas bursting in air
proof through the night
that they don't care.
Burn, New York!
Burn, Baltimore!
Burn, Louisville!
Burn, L.A.!
Burn, Seattle, Minneapolis, St Louis,
Houston, Oakland, Miami,
Burn! Burn! Burn --
with the flame of indignation,
the heat of reprehension,
the fire of compassion,
light up the skyline
with refrains
from Malcolm, Huey,
Angela and Martin
let your silhouettes flicker
to the tune of unrequited memorials
that ask why
through dead black throats
ask why
we can't keep our bowels from releasing
ask why
the EMT can't find our pulse
ask why
when your soul died you took my body
with it
ask why
our eyelids can't lift so we can
stare into the camera,
past the little girl holding it,
into your living room
He killed us!
His stare is still here,
we cannot convict him
he is us
ask why
convicting him is not suicide for you,
for all of you who didn't ask why
just repeated the lies
just retweeted the myths
covered the blows with words
hid the strangle holds behind
other breaking news,
concealed your broken face
behind 'my' facts
ask why
like you've never asked before
so you'll never have to ask again
ask
"Why can't you get in the car, George?"
and ask
"Why won't you be still, George?"
then ask again
"Momma!"
Why can't we breathe

This poem was sent to me to publish by my friend and penpal of 4 years who is currently imprisoned. I am happy to have a space to share with a Black poet, and am honored to call Mr. Graham my friend. Our letters have been a constant source of inspiration, intellectual exchange, and hope over the years. I would say a lot more, in less formal terms, about this poet and our friendship, but for his life being at the mercy of the ever watchful prison.

Syrian artists Aziz Asmar and Anis Hamdoun finish a mural depicting George Floyd in the town of Binnish in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on June 1, 2020. (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via Getty Images)

Happy Holidays—would you please put your pain on hold so I can enjoy my perfect life?

The Rebel Prof is honored to present a guest post written by an anonymous academic of color.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Your silence will not protect you.” –Audre Lorde

Black and white text that reads We Want to Destroy White Power

Image by Roger Peet

The host of this blog, who kindly invited me to write a guest post and helped me edit the post, suggested a picture like the one on the left.  While the image definitely screams my deepest desire, it is not quite what I had in mind while writing this piece. Thus in an attempt to better articulate what I wanted to capture, I went on Google image search and typed in “happy holidays family” (not “white family” or “Merry Christmas,” just to be clear).  Tada~

 

"Happy Holidays" screen shot

I have noticed that the images we constantly get from Google (or anywhere) often invoke a mix of feelings in me—anger, pain, sense of absurdity, shame, to name a few. What these images share is their relentless salespersonship of white comfort.

I have been thinking about white people’s comfort for a while. You see, growing up, I didn’t get to read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” or “The Uses of Anger” so I wasn’t taught about the danger of white comfort beyond white hatred. For so long, the nice white people around me have been pointing at the angry white dudes with torches marching down the streets of Charlottesville as the true enemy, the only enemy, as if their comfortable place in this oppressive reality were just an unfortunate coincidence , as if they had no control. I have seen nice white people giving up fights with the system because the system was “nice” to THEM. Then, I hear them requesting appreciation for THEIR suffering and silence, because their mere lack of enthusiastic participation in white supremacy makes them heroic and yet vulnerable, as if the torches in Charlottesville are burning down THEIR lives and those of THEIR children. I have felt the guilt planted in my heart for wanting to fight, for wanting them to fight with me, as if I were rude for having dared to disrupt THEIR comfort.

Then I think of those who are uncomfortably white but also do not want to make other whites uncomfortable. I think of how they would rather spend time apologizing for white silence than break it. I remember being told not to judge a person by their occasional participation in oppression and to embrace forgiveness, as if I were vicious for failing to heal wounds that are only “occasionally” cut open. I think of being constantly reminded of the perfect survivor, resilient, quiet, forbearing and extraordinarily successful against all odds, as if suffering is not worthy should the sufferer fall short of perfection, as if there were such a thing as perfection outside of what whiteness desires.

I write this piece, 55 years after MLK pled with the “white moderates” to acknowledge the urgency of Black suffering and 37 years after Audre Lorde invited white women to get over their fragility and guilt and embrace the anger of women of color. Yet here I find myself, struggling to prove my worth to white people by white standards and being told my frustration is due to my personal lacking. Unlike Lorde, my anger is not sharp and focused, it is confused and disorienting. So I write. This writing did not start with the intention to inspire but to clarify so I save the last part for myself.

Why can’t I tell the nice white people in their face that their silence is toxic and their excuses are utter bullshit? Is it my job to tell them so?  Should I like or even love those who have treated me with respect and love as an individual but remained unmoved by my shared destiny with other dispossessed and intimidated by our rage? Is it my survival instinct or cowardice that made me decide to publish these words anonymously? Have I made myself too comfortable?

 

The Refusal to Die Quietly

Many of us in the US may have seen and been shocked by images or stories of the migrant caravan’s march to the border on Sunday and the repression they faced. It can be hard to understand what’s going on, particularly because historically we haven’t received good information here in the US about Latin America. For example, although the United States has a military base in Honduras, none of the major news outlets has a reporter based there. If we are very honest though, it is also true that part of not knowing what is going on with other people in places “like Honduras” is part of not wanting to know what is going on. Sometimes as human beings we don’t know the details about the rest of the world because we don’t connect the dots that we can see.

I want to share in full the quickly and powerfully written testimony of my friend Amelia Frank-Vitale who witnessed Sunday’s experience on the border between Mexico and the US. Amelia lives in San Pedro Sula, studying the effects of deportation there, and has accompanied the caravan on part of its journey. Amelia witnessed Sunday’s teargassing:

“today was heartbreaking. my country, the one with the most powerful military in the world, used that power to overwhelm a group of people in search of safety and a better future for themselves and their children. I know, I know. the US is in no way the promised land. But, people deeply believe that their lives would be a touch easier, they could breathe a bit calmer, if they could just make it to the other side of that damn ‘fence.’

there was no getting there today. first, mexican police blocked off street after street, dividing the group and confusing what had been planned as a straightforward, peaceful protest near the pedestrian crossing point. instead, after trying to dialogue with the police, people split off, using side streets, no one totally sure where they were headed, but all hoping to be able to get near (or through) the check point.

when one group neared the ‘fence,’ the US border patrol and armed police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. that group dispersed. on the other side of the canal, well into Mexican territory, the US once again fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. this time, they hit people. there are at least five people wounded from impacts from rubber bullets and spray-paint can-sized gas canisters. this includes a foreign journalist and [my friend].

when I saw my friend bleeding profusely from the back of his head, all I could think was – fuck. my country did this. i took him to the hospital, he got some stitches, and he will be fine. thankfully. but seriously, this is the response to a few thousand people in flip-flops, many of them pushing baby carriages, trying to get in to the US?

my eyes still burn and I have that rough cough that comes from inhaling tear gas. but mostly, i feel heart broken and angry. at one point we traipsed across the canal that is (was?) the Tijuana river. There’s a small stream of waste water and a good part of the canal bed is kind of sticky muddy with sewage sludge. after walking across Mexico, people literally walked through shit today for a peek into the United States. That they were met force and cruelty by my country makes me so very ashamed.

I’ve heard reports that the march, and the actions of the caravaneros, wasn’t peaceful. that’s bullshit. peaceful is not a synonym for submissive. peaceful doesn’t mean you have to put your head down, accept shit, and thank the people stepping on your neck. people changed routes, jumped over fences, climbed up hills, and scrambled onto a parked freight train. a few people threw a few stones. some of them tried, desperately, to climb the wall. the only group of people using real force today, the only people really threatening violence, were the border patrol and police.”

Throughout the months the caravan has been traveling, I have found myself increasingly anxious about what will happen to these refugees/caraveneros once they arrive here in the US and the potentially deadly violence they will face on the border. I suspect it’s easy for a lot of us, from our variously privileged vantage points within the US, to worry about the possibility that people will be killed in a large standoff like this one. We know that permission to shoot has been granted. Although we might admire their bravery, we might then be tempted to take our worry and to be concerned at the risks the folks in the caravan are taking by approaching the border en masse like they did on Sunday.  It’s certainly true that there are people who are blaming the migrants for the use of force, although none of them might be reading this blog.  But would we feel better if these folks died en masse quietly in a shelter in Tijuana? What about if they died back in San Pedro Sula, as Amelia has also written about? What about if they died silently, individually on the migrant trail?

As they have been asserting all along, the migrant caravan/exodus is once again banding together for safety and visibility. Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans are dying regularly as a result of US policies whether we see them being attacked on the news over Thanksgiving weekend or not. What is powerful about the migrant caravan is that we are being forced to see it.

 

When They Come For You (Guest Post)

The Rebel Prof is honored to present a guest post written by anthropologist and professor Jelena Radović Fanta.

The words that were made by this country’s president on birthright citizenship was a punch in the gut. When I first heard it, it didn’t feel that way. I rolled my eyes, thought “here we go again,” took it with some humor, and then thought, well, many groups of people have been targeted by this government and his rhetoric and his executive orders over the last two years. Surely, I can’t compare this with what my fellow compañerxs have been going through. Because I have privilege and I’ve benefited from it. I’ve flown in and out of this country with my U.S. passport, I don’t need to worry about having a visa, or having a school pick-up or speeding ticket turn into a deportation. Who am I to complain.

But as I went through the day earlier this week, I had a pit feeling in my stomach. I brushed it off thinking is was due to little sleep, the list of things I need to tackle, the shorter days and darker mornings. Until a student asked me “and how are you doing?” And I realize that I had been punched in the stomach. I had a chill on my skin, my walk was slower, and my heart was heavy.

I know the (im)possibilities of this happening. And under the very improbably circumstances that this happens, I have other options. I am married to a U.S. citizen (you know, the more legit kind of citizen) and I am a citizen of another country I can go back to (a country also with birthright citizenship, DJT do your f*** research). If anything, there’s always the employment sponsored visa which I can hope to attain.

But the weeding out of everyone who does not look like or think like Trump continues. We were talking in my classes about the irreversible damage that is being done, where now 45-supporters will turn to people who seem gringo but might have that slight accent, look a little different, speak more than one language, travel back and forth, or simply have a different political viewpoint and say “You! Where are your parents from? Go back to where your parents came from!”

deport-trump

Art by Nicholas Lampert

I owe this country nothing. I am not going to list what I consider “accomplishments” that I’ve had in my life. I should not have to. But if we are going to talk about it, well than yes, I have given a lot to this country. And this country has given me a lot. There are many reasons why I am here. And if we are going to talk about immigration, let’s talk about it. If we’re going to talk about crime, let’s talk about crime and how immigrant crime rates are not higher than US born people. If we’re going to talk about social welfare, let’s do so and talk about how undocumented people are not eligible for federal public aid programs. You do not get to throw out half-ass “arguments” and logic that all they do is draw on emotion, on white fragility, on anxiety about the “browning” of this country, and other baseless bullshit “arguments.” All it does is reveal your xenophobia and fear of “other,” who, by the way has never, ever really been an other, but a “right here.” Right here next door neighbor, right here at the food truck, right here landscaping your yards, cleaning your bathrooms. Right here opening doors, driving taxis, caring for your children, educating students, doing your nails, creating art, and start up shops. There has never been an “over there.” The “over there” has only been there because you placed it there. And don’t get me started with the legality of how your grandparents came here. There was no legal way” back then. People arrived on ships and if they were healthy and part of a support system, in they came.

I had always heard that things don’t really hit you until they become personal. Attacks on Muslims, Undocumented Immigrants, African Americans, the Queer community, and Women are for me offensive, unacceptable, and must be fought. Always. Yet there’s this extra blow when I realized “Hey, he’s talking about me. And my family.” The sting is extra sharp. And it hurts a little more. And I hope that the bitterness and anger I feel will never stop pushing me to do something about it.