September 2, 2014
This post is a continuation of “We are in the midst of a crisis in this country.”
Over the last few days, Black activists from cities across the U.S. joined the Black Life Matters Ride, traveling to convene for a historic weekend in Ferguson, Missouri as part of a national call to end state sanctioned violence against Black people. We have a lot to learn from what’s going on in Ferguson right now and it seems that a window of opportunity is opening for the moment to become a movement, one that is about Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a white police officer and that also about so much more. We need to get to the root of these problems if we are going to end state sanctioned violence against Black people once and for all, rather than end up with yet another version of Jim Crow era state-sanctioned lynching.
If we could only eliminate police officers with racist attitudes from police forces, wouldn’t that take care of this problem? I am afraid it would not.
What will it truly take to end state sanctioned violence against Black people?
First, we need to start collecting national data on police stops and use of force and thankfully there are folks working on that.
Second, we must uproot much more than explicit racial prejudice. Some of the most illuminating research about police violence I know of is being done by Dr. Philip Goff, president of the Center for Policing Equity. Goff reminds us that attitudes only predict 10% of behaviors. Behaviors are actually much more heavily influenced by unconscious brain activity and biases. I’ve heard Goff present his research a couple of times at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation America Healing Conference and I was surprised to learn that explicit racial prejudice is not the biggest predictor of police officers’ use of deadly force. Instead, over 80% of incidents that involved police use of deadly force were preceded by threats to the officers’ masculinity. Masculinity threat is a more reliable predictor of a police officer pulling the trigger than racist beliefs. In the U.S., men of color are stereotyped as hyper-masculine, so it is impossible to separate masculinity threat from conscious and unconscious racial biases.
As a white person, I am challenging myself not to demonize or otherize white police officers who are committing violent acts against men of color. Why? Because we need to ask what is going on in the minds and hearts of people like Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, and Johannes Mehserle, the former San Francisco BART police officer who killed Oscar Grant. The moment I distance myself from white people like them, I am in danger of reinforcing the notion that racist violence is something I can blame someone else for, thus extricating myself from both the problem and the solution. White brothers and sisters, none of us is free from this haze of fear and disillusionment until all of us is free from it. We have got to have conversations about both the conscious and unconscious dimensions of racism, and about the interdependency of white supremacy and patriarchy. We white folks have got to take responsibility for engaging other white folks in these conversations. And we have to do this until we no longer hear things on the mainstream news like “You know who talks about race? Racists.”
May 5, 2014
“Some of my relatives lived for decades in the North, in Kano and Bornu. They spoke fluent Hausa. (One relative taught me, at the age of eight, to count in Hausa.) They made planned visits to Anambra only a few times a year, at Christmas and to attend weddings and funerals. But sometimes, in the wake of violence, they made unplanned visits. I remember the word ‘Maitatsine’ – to my young ears, it had a striking lyricism – and I remember the influx of relatives who had packed a few bags and fled the killings. What struck me about those hasty returns to the East was that my relatives always went back to the North. Until two years ago when my uncle packed up his life of thirty years in Maiduguri and moved to Awka. He was not going back. This time, he felt, was different.” – Chimamanda Adichie Read More
May 5, 2014
“Globally, it’s quite an agreeable fact that the geographical land mass hitherto known as Nigeria, often described as the giant of Africa, whether towering or lame, is almost not a Nation anymore. Ours is now a safe haven for terrorism, a dungeon for unemployed, job seeking Nigerian youth, a grappling economy and a hellish transportation bureau for the abduction and possible trading of our children, especially girls.”-Toyosi Akerele Read More
May 5, 2014
“The abduction of more than 230 schoolgirls from a rural school in Chibok, Nigeria by the Islamic terror group Boko Haram, and the failure of the Government to act despite clear local intelligence to their likely whereabouts, has ignited something extraordinary among ordinary people in the country.”- Tracy McVeigh, The Guardian Read More
April 7, 2014
I saw the new biopic about César Chávez this weekend. Criticisms notwithstanding, I think there is a lot to celebrate and a lot to learn from this film. Here are a few things that struck me.
While details apparently were missing, this was the first I had heard of the solidarity between Filipino and Chicano farm workers. It was a clear example of how race has been used to keep the class system in place in this country.
While the role of women in the movement was not fully explored, I think Helen Fabela Chávez made one of the most important statements in the film as she and César discussed moving from LA to Delano to organize workers from within their ranks. “We can’t ask the people to do anything we are not willing to do.” There is no power like the power of personal experience and personal sacrifice to make change happen.
Personal sacrifice for la causa was a consistent theme. We get glimpses of the impact of the move from LA to Delano on the entire Chávez family, illustrated mostly through the experience of oldest son Fernando. When a former classmate shows up, César offers him a job as the “legal department,” with the salary of five dollars per week, making him both the highest and lowest paid staffer. At just under 4% of median income in 1968, that would be the equivalent of about $40 per week in 2012. And, of course, there was Chávez’ 25 day fast. He said of the fast (an actual quote here, not the movie!) “A fast is first and foremost personal. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind, and soul. The fast is also a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all those who work beside me in the farm worker movement. The fast is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all men and women activists who know what is right and just, who know that they could and should do more. The fast is finally a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets who promote and sell and profit from California table grapes. During the past few years I have been studying the plague of pesticides on our land and our food,” Cesar continued “The evil is far greater than even I had thought it to be, it threatens to choke out the life of our people and also the life system that supports us all. This solution to this deadly crisis will not be found in the arrogance of the powerful, but in solidarity with the weak and helpless. I pray to God that this fast will be a preparation for a multitude of simple deeds for justice. Carried out by men and women whose hearts are focused on the suffering of the poor and who yearn, with us, for a better world. Together, all things are possible.”
The film also gave glimpses into the integrity, fearlessness, and creativity of the UFW’s strategy to secure rights for farm workers. Chief among these was the transition from strike to boycott—the transition from something that farm workers were doing to something that everyone was doing.
While a motion picture typically isn’t the way to learn about the history of social movements, this one sparked some useful thinking for me. What level of sacrifice am I willing to make for the causes I stand for? How am I working across racial lines to build solidarity? How can I support the kind of boldness and creativity needed to move justice forward in my lifetime? What about you?
April 1, 2014
The recent barrage against the effectiveness of brainstorming has been a bit hard for those of us who are grounded in the Interaction Method. But evidence matters, doesn’t it? I know that Curtis has talked about the limits of brainstorming a couple of times in this blog. Read More
March 27, 2014
Photo by Crunchy Footsteps
Process can sometimes get a bum rap in our work, as in: “I’m not a process person. I’m action-oriented.” This attitude can become a source of considerable frustration, and yet, I get it. Some people are tired of what seems like endless talk that gets them no where. And yet to translate this kind of seemingly circular conversation (what Chris Thompson has referred to as co-blaboration) as “process,” as opposed to action, does a disservice to what is essential to the work of social change. No, I’m not talking (only) about talking. I’m talking about how it is precisely at the level of process that we can make truly profound change. Read More