Death in Orlando and What Else We Could Lose

In the room backs 1 cropped
Pre-Summit “Builders’ Day” where leaders of all races and generations share findings and innovations

Tattoos, weird clothes, tee shirts with funny pictures on them, pink hair, long hair, scruffy hair, sticker-saturated computers — and brilliance, geek humor, and deep respect for one another over generation,  gender, gender identification, religion and race: that was what I saw last week at the Internet Archive Decentralized Web Summit* — called partly to discuss the technology and ethical questions behind an increasingly centralized Web.

I kept thinking all weekend about this diverse crew of genius conference attendees as the horror of the Orlando shootings unfolded.  With it will come the inevitable racial and religious generalizations and this international crew of brainiacs included probably 20%  who, because of name or skin color or accent face a higher likelihood of reflexive suspicion,  potential online monitoring, extra security checks at airports, and frightened glances in elevators, Starbuck’s and movie lines.

Over the next weeks and months, we must decide how our country should respond to what is clearly an increasing threat, especially since mainstream security experts have implied a need for more surveillance, not only in person and through interviews but also online.

I have no answers and am barely fluent in the technologies powering these surveillance tools so there’s very little I can add either to this question or the sad jeopardy into which it may place so many of my new conference friends.  For me though, it’s another  – and very important – ripple in the pool of our outrage.

*New Connections
We are bringing together a diverse group of Web architects, activists, engineers, archivists, scholars, journalists, and other stakeholders to explore the technology required to build a Decentralized Web and its impact.

Call to action
The current Web is not private or censorship-free. It lacks a memory, a way to preserve our culture’s digital record through time. The Decentralized Web aims to make the Web open, secure and free of censorship by distributing data, processing, and hosting across millions of computers around the world, with no centralized control.


Ferguson, Missouri, Yale and What We Learn If We Listen

Mizzou bookstore
Mizzou bookstore

The first version of this post appeared in August of last year, just 15 months ago.  (Ironically, Ferguson is only 2 hours from Colombia, MO, home of the University of Missouri. ) Much of that year’s BlogHer had dealt with intersectionality; Ferguson demonstrated how much I didn’t know and how much I could learn from listening to friends of color both on Facebook and on their blogs.

Well – the posts connected to what’s been happening at Yale and U. Missouri illustrate that all the more.  I’m going to leave that earlier post but just so it’s clear what I mean, here one from a professor that circulated in the past week.

Listen, I need you to understand what I’m about to say. This is what I taught the students at Morehouse last week.

2015 is not what we thought it was. The deadliest hate crime against Black folk in the past 75 years happened THIS YEAR in Charleston.

More unarmed Black folk have been killed by police THIS YEAR than were lynched in any year since 1923.

Never, in the history of modern America, have we seen Black students in elementary, middle, and high school handcuffed and assaulted by police IN SCHOOL like we have seen this year.

Black students, who pay tuition are leaving the University of Missouri campus right now because of active death threats against their lives.

If you EVER wondered who you would be or what you would do if you lived during the Civil Rights Movement, stop. You are living in that time, RIGHT NOW.  Shaun King

One of the bloggers I admire most is Kelly Wickham, who writes  Mocha Momma. I “met” her online 7 years ago because she was a reading specialist and, as the parent of a dyslexic child, I was so grateful for the committed, loving, determined way she wrote about her work. I kind of stalked her in comments until we met at BlogHer in 2007. (Actually I also stalked her after that, too, but at least by then she knew who I was.)

She writes, with honesty and rage, about race.  About family, and  love, and education and whatever else occurs to her, but also about race.  I’ve learned a lot from her, including how much I didn’t know.  As the years have passed, and more women of color have joined BlogHer and Kelly’s Facebook feed, I’ve learned from others, too.   The BlogHer community grew and widened, and with it the gut understanding of the whole community.  On our blogs we tell the truth, and the different truths shared by the bloggers who are now a part of my life have been an immeasurable gift.

Of course it is beyond wrong that, in 2014, we still have to seek diversity, to go out of our way to learn lessons we should have learned long ago, and that those most in pain still experience so much that we haven’t figured out how to learn.

The trouble is that there hasn’t been nearly enough intersection between us and those experiencing  the harshest emotions that emerge in response to American racism.

I remember once talking with author Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, who said to me “Don’t you see, we black mothers must be lionesses to protect our sons.”  I thought of her statement often as I was raising my own.

I remember a colleague describing to me, when we were both pregnant, her fear of the first time someone called her not-yet-born child a “n*$%#&r” – of what she would say to him, what she would do.

But despite having African-American colleagues and friends, I’m not sure I ever, until these past days, completely heard the depth of anger and despair that lives within so many.

It’s not that I didn’t know; most people I know care about and have seen plenty of racial injustice and have worked, in our own ways, to change it.  But that’s different from opening someone else’s door and walking in.  It’s on fire in there.  And it should be.

Listen to these:

Everyone can’t stand up the moment something pisses the off and we’re all different in how we react. Some people shut down because they don’t even know where to start. Some people just need a nudge to be emboldened to speak. Some people need to know they’re needed before they speak.

Well if you need that nudge, here it is. If you’re afraid because you don’t want to say the wrong thing, push past that fear. Because right now, your silence about the continued devaluation of Black lives is wrong. Your lack of acknowledgement is not ok. If you need tips before speaking out here’s 3: don’t blame the person who was killed. Don’t say you’re color-blind. Acknowledge the racism at play.

Speaking up when it matters is usually when it’s also the hardest. When your voice shakes, that’s when you’re standing in truth. But that’s usually when it is most needed. And when you do it, someone else might be encouraged to do the same. Do not be silent.  Awesomely Luvvie 

I am outraged but I do not know what to do with my outrage that might be productive, that might move this world forward toward a place where black lives matter, and where black parents no longer need to have “the talk” with their children about how not to be killed by police and where anger over a lifetime of wrongs is not judged, but understood and supported. Roxanne Gay

Black bodies matter. Black bodies matter. Black bodies matter. Say it with me: Black bodies matter. This isn’t a question. This isn’t a euphemism. This isn’t an analogy. This is a fact. Black cis and trans boys, girls, men, and women and non-binary folks, they all matter. Until that fact becomes a universal truth due to the precise liberty and justice the Constitution of this country promises, I won’t stop fighting and neither should you.  Jenn M. Jackson

But it wasn’t what I could see and hear as Ferguson residents fled and were pursued into residential areas that gave me chills. It was what I couldn’t see. Because behind the walls of those smoke-shrouded homes were parents comforting their frightened children. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were there. They could have been me. They could have been my children.Kymberli Barney for Mom 2.0

This is what I need, dear friend.

I need to know that you are not merely worried about this most tragic of worst case scenarios befalling my son; I need to know that you are out there changing the ethos that puts it in place. That you see this as something that unites us as mothers, friends and human beings.

My son needs me, as much as yours needs you. Sadly, my son needs me more. He needs someone to have his back, when it seems that the police, the men he’d wave to with excitement as a little boy, see him as a being worthy only of prison or death.

I need you, too, because I can’t do this alone.     Keesha Beckford “Dear White Moms” on BonBon Break

This is where the story gets tricky. This is where our son paced up and down the stairs—in his under shirt, gym shorts and crew socks—telling us about the police who came to our door and handcuffed our son and pulled him outside.    “Why?” It was the only question I could come up with — “why?”       

His hands ran over his face and found each other behind his head. I knew this look too. The one of lost words—of previous trauma—of discouragement. 

“I don’t know. There’s some robberies in the area? I guess? And they saw me here—I don’t know. They thought it was me. They thought it was me and wouldn’t listen. They didn’t believe me that this was my house.”

He shook his head and looked at me. “It didn’t even matter that I had a key, moms.”   Elora Nicole

For each of these there are dozens and dozens more.  No more to say.


Race, Power, Education, . . . and Football

1950 is the year the first Black student enrolled at the University of Missouri.
1950 is the year the first Black student enrolled at the University of Missouri.

“We have to do it on our own, Cindy.  You can’t help anymore.”  She said it gently, but it was pretty painful.  I’d been involved in campus civil rights advocacy since I’d arrived as a freshman in 1964, just a little bit more than a year after the March on Washington.   Now it was the fall of 1966 and we were back from summer vacation.

I was early for the first action meeting of the year and ran into my friend Cheryl on the steps.  I started to ask about plans for the year and she shook her head — then told me that the Black students on campus had decided to build from within their own community.  It was kind of “thanks but no thanks.”  I was sad, but not angry – I knew what she was saying and as much as I wanted to be part of what they were doing, I understood their desire to act independently.

That was almost 50 years ago and still students of color are forced to demand respect, rather than assume it.  This time, at least, they got it.

My sister Pittsburgher Dr. Goddess sums up: “The Movement we just witnessed was intersectional, humanist, gendered, Black-led and labor-fed. Celebrate the Vision!” 

OH – and because we should always seek the wisdom of Dave Zirin in moments like these,, take a look at  this thoughtful meditation on racial justice AND the power of student athletes.


Emmys, Women of Color and the Wonderful Awesomely Luvvie

Listening to Viola Davis last night and reading responses from so many of my friends was inspiring, but hardly surprising. I’ve written often about the gift, through the Internet, of access to the ideas of women of color their perspectives on America and race.

But last night and this morning, it was as if it was brand new, with this post from AwesomelyLuvvie saying it all. The depth of joy and pride wasn’t surprising, of course. It was just so wonderful and passionate. I remembered all the “first women” of the 70’s and 80’s: astronauts and VP Candidates, fire fighters and West Point grads, Supreme Court justices, rabbis, and orchestra conductors,  and could only imagine how much bigger this must feel – especially since Davis’ speech was so phenomenal.

So hats off Luvvie!  And hats off to Viola Davis and her sisters, those who won, those who didn’t and the fierce women who supported them.

Ferguson, Age, and Loss

kneeling sizedVery seldom do I notice my age.  But as I have read the outpouring of grief and rage (which I share) over the Michael Brown grand jury verdict, I am deeply aware of the decades I lived before most of these friends, and other writers who are otherwise strangers, were born.  Things they learned about, but I lived through.

With deep sadness and disgust,  I watched Robert McCullough in his starched white shirt and dark suit with his half-glasses perched on his nose like a college professor and knew what he would say.  His endless prologue foretold what was coming with an ego and naked self-interest that was dreadful to see.  But it wasn’t a surprise.  I expected nothing else.

I remember the murders of  James Earl ChaneyAndrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner,, (see Awesomely Luvvie) of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Dr. King, Viola Liuzzo.  Brutality, incarceration, death.  I remember George Wallace in the school-house door,

and Willie Horton

and the ads that NC Sen. Jesse Helms, in a re-election bid, ran against African-American candidate Harvey Gantt .  
I remember scores more for every one of these.

It’s really terrible to witness, and share, the heartbreak described by so many I love.  Read this post by Kelly Wickham that expands on that, or this by Rita Arens.  Or go back and hit the #ferguson and #blacklivesmatter hashtags one more time if you can bear it.  A Greek chorus of agony.

I am by no means connecting this weariness of mine with reasons to stop taking action and writing and reaching out and making noise.  No.  I’m just thinking about how different it feels when you’ve sat in front of black and white TVs and listened on transistor radios the first times you learned of each desperately painful incident of even the past half century. We know we will keep working, trying.  Even so, how hard it is to feel shock or surprise or anything other than a bone-chilling validation of the presence of those ugly creatures of hate and injustice that still hide between the stars and stripes that represent our country.

#Whiteprivilege, San Francisco Style (Not Big Things, Just Wrong Anyway)

The Street In Question
The Street In Question

It happened three times in one week; things that would have happened very differently to people of color.  First came a real, seriously sizable pack – yes pack – of teenage boys running down California Street after dark, screaming and cursing — looking maybe like all of them were chasing the first one.  Except for the dog and me, nobody seemed to care.  No one yelled “slow down” or “quiet down” in this family-rich neighborhood.  No one called the police to report a dangerous group of boys intent on making, if not trouble, at least way too much noise — and on a school night!  Did I mention that they were white?

Mt Lake trail 1
The Trail in Question

This morning, for the zillionth time, a very large off-leash dog came at our very large, protective, on-leash one. He feels helpless when he’s on a leash and approaching dogs aren’t, and gets very agitated.  When I called to the owners to please call their dog back toward them, they yelled at me!  Why does this matter?  The park trail is strictly for dogs on a leash.  Almost no one follows the rules. When we moved here, I asked our dog walker about it; she smiled indulgently and told me to “just turn around and go the other way.”  Each culprit, it seems, sees this particular infraction as ok – for them, and raising the issue would do no good.  Did I mention that they were white?

Night time crosswalk edited
One of the Crosswalks in Question

Finally, there’s this: California law requires drivers to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.  Our non-commercial street is pretty busy despite being almost totally residential.   At least one in four drivers rush right through even when pedestrians are already into the street.  At night it’s more than that, and since they don’t see people as quickly in the dark, far more dangerous.  Did I mention that many of them are white?

We live in this neighborhood because it is diverse.  Signs in the library are posted in three languages (see below) and we hear more than that on the street, including Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Russian.  Even so, the people involved in this law-breaking  —  did I mention that they are all white?

The Library in Question
The Library in Question

For months I have had the privilege of listening to sisters of color speak and write among themselves and to the rest of us of the moment after moment, incident after incident, that are part of their lives.  Many are desperately terrifying or heartbreaking, or both.  Like the ones described here though, they are automatic assumptions of white privilege, of the right to break an inconvenient law without consequence and to censure people of color for similar infractions.  As  small as these examples are, or maybe because they are, they teach us how much we all presume, how automatically we assume it’s ok for us to break the law or the social contract.  What they haven’t taught us yet – horrible huge assault or small presumption, is how much each one diminishes us all.



A Truth and Reconciliation Commission Like South Africa? Do We Need One Here?

revealingAre we there?  Does the endless litany of police murders of young, and not so young, black men, and the arrest and detention of so many more, require the deep, horrendous revisiting that comes with hearings like those held in South Africa?  Yes, says The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion:

The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, inspired by the process that took place in South Africa, will allow us to develop an appropriate understanding of past injustices and to envision constructive remedies to create a new regional culture of fairness, equal opportunity and improved prosperity.

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, conducted after the end of Apartheid, were dramatic, traumatic, hideous and brilliant.  Hideous because of the brutality of the testimony – brutal because Apartheid was brutal, and brilliant for their courage and honesty.  In Country of my Skull, her gripping account of the hearings, reporter Antjie Krog describes post-traumatic stress that sent not only the accused and the witnesses but also the reporters and judges, into trauma therapy.  It was simply unbearable to hear.  And those who testified and listened, bore the unbearable, helped to defuse a rage that would have consumed the country.

Are things that bad here?  No.  Here, in theory, the law exists to protect Americans against the behavior that Apartheid institutionalized.  Even so, the torrent of agony and sadness and anger of the past weeks is evidence that the current reality  is often unbearable — and should not have to be borne.  That reality includes an ever-growing list of dead black men, day after day after day, in WalMart, on the street, in a police car, a park, a back yard.  Countless more detained, humiliated and released.

TV Producer Charles Belk, wrongfully detained.
TV Producer Charles Belk, wrongfully detained.

Today, an additional outrage arose in the story about TV producer Charles Belk, (left) arrested, handcuffed and detained in Beverly Hills for several hours as a suspect who looked nothing like him (except of course, that they are both black.)

Now it turns out that although the arrest was flawed and he was never arraigned, he has an arrest record that will, according to local attorneys, probably never go away.  Accomplished and with considerable power, on his way to an Emmy event, it (even) happened to him.  If he’s ever stopped again, or if someone searches the law enforcement database for some other reason, his name will come up, even though he was completely innocent.  He’s “in the system.”  The law set him free, but racism got him arrested in the first place and left him with a record.

So.  When we read of proposed reconciliation commissions, whose power lies not in their conclusions but in what they uncover as perpetrator (usually law enforcement) and victim (if they have survived) face one another, and what happens after that, we can’t just write off the idea.

Although all the recent reported incidents involve law enforcement (and yes, there are also many great police officers, we know that), so many other parts of our culture are in need of attention.  Jobs, housing, shopping (even the president remembers being followed by sales staff in stores to make sure he didn’t steal something) education, culture, journalism, and the intangibles – someone grabbing on to their purse when you pass, or crossing the street, being quietly insulting … and in all of them, perception, so far from the truth.

So what do we think?  Is our country, in its current self-occupied, nasty mood, capable of even considering such an idea, allowing a commission to be led as Bishop Tutu led South Africa’s? Do we have leaders with the wisdom and credibility to hold such a thing together.  And would we recognize such a person if they were in our midst?  AND can we be ready for this:

Bishop Tutu (L) with Nelson Mandela
Bishop Tutu (L) with Nelson Mandela

I hope that the work of the Commission, by opening wounds to cleanse them, will thereby stop them from festering. We cannot be facile and say bygones will be bygones, because they will not be bygones and will return to haunt us. True reconciliation is never cheap, for it is based on forgiveness which is costly. Forgiveness in turn depends on repentance, which has to be based on an acknowledgement of what was done wrong, and therefore on disclosure of the truth. You cannot forgive what you do not know…  Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, on his appointment as Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, November 1995

Thanks to Chris Rabb for spotlighting Professor Sheila A. Bedi’s post on this issue.

Lupita, the Oscars, Race and the Un-Funny (I’m Lookin’ at YOU Chelsea)

1815-Oscars-2014-Lupita-Nyong-among-five-biggestMocking LUPITA?  Really?

The presence of President Barack Obama has clearly given haters permission to go public.  It’s given conservative politicians excuses to obstruct nominees and legislation almost to the point of treason.  Today’s criticism of the president’s Ukraine responses, especially that of Senator Lindsey Graham, who knows better and seems to fear his primary opponent more than he fears adversely affecting our country’s future, is the latest example.

We expect that from the predictably-racist and from opportunistic politicians.  We do NOT, however, expect it from mainstream comedians on mainstream outlets like The Huffington Post.  So how does it happen that the much-honored Chelsea Handler, who has 5.4 million Twitter followers, her own nightly E! TV show, and is a frequent guest on others, feels free to:

a) Tweet what she did about African Americans and the Oscars (read this, you won’t believe it)

b) EVER believe these posts would be funny

c) Continue so long on such an influential venue without interruption by her “publisher?”

She is about to launch a stand-up tour and was tweeting to promote it, but in service to that end, repeatedly tweeted what were at least disrespectful and self-occupied and at most patently racist comments not only about Lupita Nyong’o’s win, but also about past Oscar winners Sidney Poitier and Angelina Jolie (who also received this year’s Humanitarian Award,) Whoopi Goldberg, and this: “ looks great -Oscars –@chelseahandler” referring, presumably, to ABC’s endless promos for their new drama Resurrection.

As of this writing, there has been no searchable comment from HuffPo beyond a bland response to the Grio.

The thing is, as the only woman late-night anchor, an edgy humorist and all that stuff, her behavior is somehow especially painful.  She’s reaching younger people and, with this kind of talk, making it a little easier for them to accept it from others. Because of the huge reach of HuffPo, she’s legitimized both by her presence and their silence.

So how is it, in the 5th year of the administration of our first Black president, when best picture, best screenplay and best supporting actress Oscars went to African-Americans, and, as Larry Irving has noted, “Who says Hollywood is stuck in the past… Mexican born Director wins for Best Director. British Born Brother wins for Best Picture… Kenyan born Yale educated woman wins for Best Supporting Actress… Love it!!! In America anything really can happen…” it is possible for this to happen and be almost solely in African-American outlets like The Grio and The Root?

Come on guys!  Free speech, free press indeed.  But we really need to speak up when this kind of thing is still acceptable as humor.  Seriously.


I lived in Manhattan in 1989 when David Dinkins ran to become the first African-American mayor of New York, challenging an entrenched but increasingly unpopular Ed Koch in the primary, then defeating  Rudy Giuliani in the general election.  In that race, Dinkins was far ahead in the polls but didn’t win by much.  Here’s how Adam Berinsky of The Monkey Cage describes it:

examined data from a 1989 New York City Mayoral election. There, the black
candidate David Dinkins held a fourteen- to eighteen-point advantage over his
white opponent Rudolph Giuliani in polls taken only days before the election,
but ended up winning the race by less than two percentage points. Correcting
the polls using statistical techniques that accounted for the “don’t know”
improved the predictive power of those polls. Clearly, some people who said
they didn’t know how they were going to vote in fact did know – they just
didn’t want to tell us.

The same thing happened earlier, in 1982, to one of LA’s most popular, and first black, mayors, Tom Bradley, when he ran for governor of California.  The gap between the polls and the electoral results was so large that the phenomenon was named "the Bradley effect."  Way ahead in polls right up to election day, Bradley lost decisively to George Deukmejian.


I’m so afraid that this presidential race may be tainted by some of the same behavior.  Of course I’m not covering new ground, just aggregating some good thoughts.  Listen to the work of the very wise Jill Miller Zimon at Writes Like She Talks, in which she quotes Tim Wise’s "This Is Your Nation on White Privilege."  The fact that that post generated some very heated comments speaks to the currency of this issue, right now.



Mlk_wave_from_podiumI was about to be a senior in high school that summer, with my family on vacation in Provincetown, MA, at the tip of Cape Cod.   All I really wanted to do was find Edna St. Vincent Millay’s summer hangout and the theater used by Eugene O’Neill  and the Provincetown Players.  Those were gone; instead, I tripped over a future that quickly ended my quest for the past.

Walking by a restaurant, we passed a TV sitting on the sidewalk, on a milk crate so everyone could watch.  On the air: the March on Washington and the speech by Dr. Martin Luther King.  I was transfixed.  Living in a little town outside Pittsburgh, I hadn’t really paid much attention.  Until that moment.  It was August 28, 1963, and it launched the next phase of my life.  As I watched, I knew that I belonged there – where there was purpose – in the middle of history.  It was a profound thing to listen to this man, to see the sea of people around him, watch the individual interviews, hear the music.  When people wonder how we became a generation of activists, I know that this was one of the moments that drove us forward, if we weren’t there already.

How beautiful then that EXACTLY 45 years later, Barack Obama will accept the nomination of his party to be the Democratic candidate for President of the United States.  I heard Rep. John Lewis, so badly beaten in the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, tell an interviewer that he wasn’t sure he could make it through his own speech — that if anyone had told him that 45 years after that Selma march he’d watch an African-American man accept the presidential nomination, he would have told them they were crazy.  Obama adviser and friend Valerie Jarrett, describing what it would mean to her parents in an interview with our own Erin Kotckei Vest, struggled to contain her own tears.  This is important.