Stop Resisting*

Warning: The following blog contains video content that is extremely disturbing and is posted for educational purposes only. Please watch at your own discretion.

PBS – Need to Know: Crossing the Line at the Border

I’m posting the link to the PBS documentary on the murder of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas at the San Diego border because there are two words that haunted me when I read about the recent altercation between police and a black family at a Fairfield, Ohio pool. The words are “Stop Resisting.” It would seem that these are the magic words that police and law enforcement officers utter to magically transform and safeguard their actions into an act of subduing a “violent criminal”…in the case of today’s situation, a 12 year old girl (read about it HERE.) With Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, the officers claimed that he became violent and needed to be subdued as they were transporting him back to Mexico…even though, as the video above shows, his feet were bound and ultimately his trousers were nearly torn off.  We hear the officers shouting “stop resisting” while he is repeatedly tazed and crying for his mother. In the end, he can be seen lying unresponsive on the ground (this happened in plain view of many people crossing the border and was captured on a camera phone.) We hear echoes of this command to “stop resisting” when we look at the Eric Garner video and see an unarmed man being choked to death. We hear it when the officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice case (also a 12 year old) claims that the “he had no other choice.”

IMG_0249These cases all began with assumptions. Assumptions and specific choices by the victims: that they could get away with breaking a minor law (Eric Garner); or escape a traffic violation or child support (Walter Scott); or in the case of Tamir Rice that he could play with a toy gun, or in the case of this week’s 12 year old, that she could go to a pool and swim with someone who had no suit. But it is the assumptions of those doing the policing that are repeatedly turning these stories into funerals. The assumption that a teenager wearing a hoodie is going to rob somebody and doesn’t belong in the neighborhood (Trayvon Martin); the assumption that a large framed teenager walking in the street is an unwelcome and lethal threat (Michael Brown); the assumption that a bikini clad 15 year old is going to cause physical trouble (McKinney, TX); the assumption that a 12 year old girl at a pool is a threat to a fully grown, armed and body armor clad man (Fairfield, OH); and of course the assumption presented in the PBS video above, that a hog tied immigration detainee with a broken ankle is a potentially lethal menace to at least 10 border patrol agents (Hernandez-Rojas.)

“The more that black and brown people, immigrants and the disadvantaged are assumed to be violent threats, and the more they are targeted by what feels like a “renaissance in racism,” the more they are going to feel the need to violently fight back.”

If all of this sounds ridiculous it is because, tragically, it is. There is no logic or justification for the psychology that is being exhibited as a standard in the way policing works in the United States. The only thing that is extremely clear is that the behavior being trained into the way people are policed in our country (regardless of the race of the officers…see Freddie Gray) is that if an alleged perpetrator has black or brown skin, regardless of their gender identity or if they have an accent, they are assumed to be older, more devious, more violent and more of a lethal threat to public order than they most likely are.

Our culture is playing with fire. The more that black and brown people, immigrants and the disadvantaged are assumed to be violent threats, and the more they are targeted by what feels like a “renaissance in racism,” the more they are going to feel the need to violently fight back.  All of this has the potential to spiral even more out of control than it already has.  As a civil society, we must look at the social construct we call race and actually deal with it. The truth is that we are no where yet near living in a world where it is either useful or welcome for a biologically, genetically and ethnically white woman to choose to be “black” so that she can co-opt her place in “fighting the good fight” ; particularly, when black and brown people who can’t choose to be anything else are being shot, beat up, targeted and abused, not only by deranged white supremacists, but even by the very people who are supposed to be protecting us all. The social construct of race was not created to keep white people in…it was created to keep everyone else out (see: #europeanimperialism & #onedroprule.) Until we deal with that  inequity, there will be no real just and fair inclusion…or policing for any of us.  And until we deal with it, people of color most certainly will not “stop resisting.”

*Please note: this post was written before news of the murders at Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina had broken. Out of respect for the grieving families, I will not post commentary until an investigation has begun and the community directly impacted has decided on how they need to be supported. Please hold them in your hearts.

Conversations About Masculinity – 2

What do we want to be?

MacArthurIf people don’t think that race and gender justice are deeply connected, then they are living in a delusional world.  When I first got wind of the horrific burning of an 18 year old gender bending youth, Sasha Fleishman by a 16 year old (unnamed because he is a minor) on a city bus in Oakland, I was stunned and immediately went to the place that most of us go for our news these days…the internet.  But in doing a search for “Oakland youth burned on bus” I came up with, among other things, a site that is called ‘niggermania’ (I will not link to it here because I’d rather not drive traffic to it and who knows what kind of crazies are behind it.)  On this site, there were a lot of people who were very intent on making it clear that because the victim was white and because the perpetrator was black that this would somehow lead to the media not making as much of it as if the race roles were reversed.  There were a lot of mentions of Trayvon Martin and a lot of very sad and bigoted language all around.  I still marvel that my search brought this site up.  But rather than just being pissed off by the existence of this site, I had a good long think about it and realized that this perspective actually didn’t surprise me in any way; in fact it seemed eerily familiar.  Not because, all white Americans are bigots…that is far from the case.  Instead I realized that this was a sampling of the worst elements of the dominant culture invective played out in its most exaggerated and acid tone and as an American, I am accustomed to always hearing about race.  America is obsessed with race.  Regardless of the conversation, somehow, there is always a racial bent on it.  Ask any non-American and they will tell you so.

But that still doesn’t answer the fact that the bigots have been correct in how this story has not had the juggernaut press of other stories of late where black people have been the innocent victims of crimes of racial profiling.  As I see it, there is one reason and one reason only for this lack of coverage: gender.  The sad subtext of the media being more tacet on this story than on the others has a lot to do with a very subtle approval of the suppression and ‘turning a blind eye’ to issues of gender non-conformity.  It is a subtle affirmation, whether deliberate or not, of the act of the 16 year old saying in effect that they agree on a certain level that a boy who does not present socially as a boy is a bad thing.  More specifically, this silence sends the clear signal that when someone who is outside of the gender norm is victimized, it is somehow not as important as when someone who is racially profiled is victimized.  We see this time and again with the non reporting of transgender crimes either to the police or to the media.  Now admittedly, this is part apples and oranges.  The profiling cases we are currently seeing in national media all involve murder and this case is assault.  However, this current situation also involves a minor choosing to permanently disfigure someone and the resulting punishment treats the minor as an adult.  With all of the questions surrounding juvenile justice and the mass incarceration of people of color, there is a significant conversation that could be had here about the fate of this young man thanks to his own twisted decisions.  All of these stories have ghastly and tragic elements and each deserves to be heard by the public.  But we cannot dismiss the Oakland burning as some kind of child’s play gone wrong…’boys will be boys.’ This was a deliberate and gruesome act based on (by admission of the 16 year old) a hate bias against someone’s gender expression.  So where are the marches?  Where are the protests?

Nowhere, because as a culture, we don’t care.

I ask the question, “who do we want to be” in the conversation on manhood, because we have choices.  We have the choice to decide if we are going to be violent and abusive; we have the choice to decide if we are going to put up barriers; we have the choice to decide if we are going to look at someone and call them disgusting, or worthless, or less than us in someway.  We have choices.  But we don’t have a choice in how we express our gender.  This is a completely individual and for some a God given gift.  It is part of the fabric that makes each of us an individual.  Likewise, we also have no choice as to our race.  It is not something we can fix and fiddle after the fact, because, like our gender and gender expression, it came along before us and is defined by who we are.  In no circumstance, can I think of a situation where race trumps gender. Nor can I see a place where gender expression is more important than race.  We must invest in the search for a new language (literally and figuratively) to talk about these elements of our humanness  as part of our basic makeup and it is the struggle toward that language that makes this journey so difficult.  What do we want to be?  We want to be free and safe in both our gender and racial expression.  We want to be whole.

Because I am black, I am not a monster…but I can choose to do monstrous things.  Because I am gender queer, I am not a pervert…but I can choose to do perverted things.  You see, we are who we are, but we choose what we do with it.  The young man who burned Sasha Fleishman is not a monster because he is black (although ‘niggermania’ would have you think so) but he chose to do something monstrous.  Just as Sasha Fleishman is not a pervert for being a man in a skirt, although our media and culture would have us think so through their tacet response.  We have choices to make about our actions and we should be choosing actions that are grounded in love.  We cannot make choices about who we are and we shouldn’t confuse bigotries and biases for identities.  We can choose to be full of hatred, but you must remember that ultimately we are all made from love.

Heartbreak

1379273594000-AP-Charlotte-Police-Shooting-DeathI wept on BART this morning.  Reading the news on my phone as most people do, I read the story of Jon Ferrell, the former football player who was shot in North Carolina over the weekend.  I am numb to these stories.  Not to say they don’t register in me as deeply troubling examples of a twisted culture, but I have lived most of my life with news of black men being killed for one reason or another.

At that same moment, a black man came on to BART with his little boy.  The man was dressed in a fashion that (per my previous post) would probably have women clutching their purses, had he not been accompanied by a 6 year old; he wore a football jersey, sagging jeans, baseball cap, many tattoos, etc.  The man and his son sat down and the boy immediately began to read from Dr. Seuss to his dad. The man encouraged him to read it aloud to understand each word and if he had trouble, he didn’t just give the answer but gave him ways to figure it out.  And when they finished that book, the man pulled a ‘grown up’ book out of his bag, opened it to a page and asked the boy to do the same thing.  The boy struggled with the bigger words, but again, the man encouraged him.  The entire time this went on, the man had his arm around his son.

I remembered a similar scene some 43 years ago, with my own dad on the New York City subway, reading Dr. Seuss and being encouraged to figure out the words and when I had questions being asked to think about the answers instead of just expecting to be given the answers.  We were not rich and lived in the pre-fashionable Upper West Side.  My dad, in those days attired himself in what would have been considered the 1970 equivalent of hoodlum gear: large afro, African chain, daishiki print shirt, black ankle boots, etc.

And then I thought back to Jon Ferrell, and Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till and I realized that this beautiful scene of a father lovingly nurturing his son in the art of thought and engaging his world could end with that same father standing by a grave wondering why someone would have assumed that this beautiful and gentle creature who he had so carefully filled with curiosity and knowledge…why someone would assume that because he was wrapped in brown packaging that he was less worthy of living.

Every morning I walk through the armies of broken and searching black men in downtown Oakland.  They have narrowly escaped being targets of fatal gun violence, but they have not escaped being the target of our country’s institutionalized fear.  They live on the periphery, bonding and surviving any way they can.  Some are on drugs.  Some are looking for the next person to take from what they don’t have the opportunity to earn.  Some are genuinely angry.  Some are just heartbroken.  They didn’t start this way.  I wonder how many of them sat with a parent embracing them as they learned to read, never knowing that they would end up reading about their brothers being gunned down just because someone was afraid of the color of their skin.

Happy Birthday

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  It was a pivotal day in the history of the Civil Rights movement in America.  Although it had been conceived before (reference is made in the film Brother Outsider to a plan in the 1940’s for a march of this nature) it was the first time any demonstration of this magnitude had ever come together in this country.  A mixing of races and religions and economic backgrounds came together and stood united in demonstration of the need for change for one specific demographic sector…black people.

These kinds of demonstrations aren’t so simple now.  As we progressed from the era of fighting for the rights of one marginalized population, other groups began to find their voices in the song of freedom.  Women, Gays and Lesbians, Latinos, Asian Americans, people with disabilities, Jews, Muslims, Atheists.  But eventually people started to realize as well that they weren’t just part of one group.  We used to joke (before political correctness) that if you were a black Jewish lesbian in a wheelchair, you had the ultimate minority status.  But we don’t make those jokes anymore; in fact, we are starting to see the value of recognizing what a black, Jewish, disabled lesbian would represent in the mix.  She would represent the degree to which we all sit at intersections of cultures, demographics and social standings.  Each of us has privilege; each of us has disadvantage.  The Civil Rights Movement ushered in an age of self identity that has now culminated in all of us finding multiple self identities.

As we look back on the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, the brilliance of Bayard Rustin’s organizing and the willingness of the people to buy into the effort and gather en-masse during a weekday, it does seem clear that somethings have definitely changed.  But it is also clear that some things have not really changed at all.  People have died for a cause who’s banners would be just as relevant today.  A white man can kill a black man and walk free.  We talk about how demographics are shifting to make people of color the majority in this country by 2050; but that kind of binary based demographic still leaves white people as the “norm” or the barometer against which everyone else is measured.   Change…but the same.

Progress…real progress, will mean a time when we are able to look at the world through something other than the binary lens: black/white; gay/straight; male/female; rich/poor; able/disabled.  We will look at each other as hearts and minds and we will look at life and maybe even God as a continuum…a spectrum of experience.  We will have no need for demographics because we will no longer be judging each other.  We will fully embrace our selves as black lesbian disabled Jews and our society will actually not raise an eyebrow when it is asked to embrace us back.

But over all, my point is, this day, in 1963 is when it began.  Certainly others fought hard before and after this date, but it is the one date we can point to when we know that at least 250,000 other people were thinking pretty much the same thing: “we need to do something about this mess.”

Today is also my friend Stacey’s birthday…in fact at the exact moment when those 250,000 people were gathered on the National Mall, when Martin Luther King, Jr. declared “I Have a Dream”, while Mahaila Jackson sang “How I Got Over,” Stacey sent her first cry to the heavens.  And although both Mahalia and Dr. King are gone, Stacey is still here and still crying to the heavens, singing jazz.  In 50 years, she has changed of course…as we all have, yet she is the same; just like this country, just like our dreams for justice and equality for all.

So, today, rather than lamenting how much things are the same after 50 years, let’s celebrate what is good about those things that haven’t changed…our basic desire for honesty, humanity and humility; our basic desire for good.  Our need to see the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.  Our God given talents and gifts that lift one another up and unite us as one people to declare that we ALL have a dream; and of course the fact that we are still singing jazz.  For without dreams, whether they be great or small, what else do we have to live for?

Happy Birthday Stacey!

Body

adam_2In the Fall of 2003 I was asked to be a model for P90X.  It is now the world’s best selling workout DVD.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, there’s a link at the bottom of this page.  At that time, I was in the midst of a grand personal experiment.  I had come to Los Angeles at the end of a national tour determined to be “LA Adam.”  When I started the experiment, I wasn’t actually sure what that meant.  But I knew one thing for sure, it involved having what I called the “LA Body.”  This was a body that would always be camera ready, shaved, sculpted and looking 10 – 15 years younger than it actually was.  Prior to the LA body, I had lived with people commenting on my body as a dancer, for its shape and definition and flexibility; sometimes, welcome, sometimes not.  The most disturbing and regular comment on my body was “you black guys, never have to work out” or “you all look like that” or “dark skin always makes someone look better” or some variation on that theme.  I will happily admit that my parents gave me some good clay to work with, but it was up to me as to what I did with that clay. The idea that my body simply appeared the way it did is naive to say the least.  I started exercising when I was about ten or eleven.  I secretly did hours of ballet exercises in my basement throughout high school.  My freshman year of college, I spent more time in a dance studio than I did in class and then throughout the rest of college, the gym was my refuge from feeling like an outsider.  This past year is the longest I’ve gone in 30 years without a gym membership or regular access to an exercise facility of some kind…only because I spend so much time blogging…but I still, run, do pushups and situps and ride my bike to work.  Yeah, my body just happens because I’m black!

Black men and women have been objectified since day one in America.  Being paraded, proded and peddled as livestock meant we had to have strong bones and teeth, good backs and healthy genitals for breeding.  Stories of auction block antics surrounding the treatment of slaves would disgust most of you so I will let you explore that on your own (see links below.)  But it is that same history that expects us to be good athletes and day laborers and not necessarily bookish and un-athletic.  It is the same history that is behind racial profiling and is history that sits behind the assumptions about Trayvon Martin’s physical ability to inflict harm on George Zimmerman. Black women who are called “Brown Sugar”, black men who are called “Mandingo”…these and the dumb jock mentality are gross assumptions and the worst kind of stereotypes because the black community has frequently adopted them as well.  Blacks have played into a self objectification that makes us out to be nothing more than collection of wildly exaggerated body parts.

It has been a very dicey business for me personally to separate just what is the perverse racially motivated fascination with black bodies in America and what is the perverse fascination with sexuality in America in general.  Living at those crossroads is at times unbearable.  How do you know if someone is going out with you because they like you or because they want to sleep with the ‘P90X Ab Guy’ or because they are expecting nothing short of a sexual freak when they get in your pants?  Or how do you know if that same fascination isn’t just part of the whole “body=sex” equation here in the US?

Simply, you don’t.

I’d love to see us change the dialogue about how we not only talk about black bodies, but how we talk about ALL bodies.  Objectification, racialization, gendering…these are all aggressions we throw at each other, sometimes all too casually.  This fall I will be teaching a course at the Starr King School for the Ministry, In Your Hands: The Language, Ethics and Spirituality of Touch.  My hope is that in this class I can lay the groundwork for changing the game.  When I think of racially motivated violence, both physical and verbal, it is very clear to me that people are only capable of doing these things if they have never been intimate (in the platonic sense) with someone who looks different than they do.  I also believe that faith community leaders have a unique power to introduce a new language of touch.  The crimes of the Catholic church in abusing this power, show just how much power really exists in the ability to influence how someone sees their body.  Repulsively, this power was used by certain members of the Catholic church to horrific ends.  If we only punish them, no matter how severely, they have still won.  We must make a concerted effort to not only make sure those crimes don’t happen again, but to establish a new way to communicate through touch.  The answer is not to eliminate touch…that is inhuman.  The answer is in exploring the deeper meaning of touch as it relates to our physical identity, sense of physical well being and creating a language of liberated body justice where we can not only touch one another, but we can enjoy what that means, without fear or threat.  Imagine a room full of gang members (of any race), or people who hate one another, or total strangers, who are put in a room and simply asked to hold hands…no words.  The potential is tremendous, if we do the tough work…exploring our fears about touch, bodies and physical intimacies.  Faith communities have been vilified in terms of how they view the body and how they use the body.  If faith communities and spiritual people can lead the way to reclaim touch and body awareness, we literally can change the world.

P90X

Starr King School for the Ministry Course Descriptions (mine is at the bottom)

Slave Auction History 1

Slave Auction History 2

Slave Auction History 3

Slave Auction History 4

Point of View

20130720_071432My word for the day is ‘perspective.’

Yesterday, President Obama did something unprecedented.  He completely personalized an issue that he didn’t have to.  Until yesterday, He was treading the road of Washington D.C. professional, political navigator…insider.  But yesterday he made a surprise statement about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.  For at least a portion of those 18 minutes, he was no longer the President of the United States, but the president of black men in America.  A risky stance when it’s open season on black men.  But this was an important step and a step that only he could take.  Black men have never had a president say “I am unapologetically one of you.”  Conservative pundits are critical of him for identifying, for reminding us that 35 years ago it could have been him who was shot by a local vigilante; for reminding us that he has had people lock car doors when he walks by, women clutch their purses when they see him…just as I and millions of black men have had happen to them as well.  But where were the criticisms when George W. Bush put in place tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (largely white men) or when he made any number of statements about ‘conservative’ values (abortion, gay rights, affirmative action) that only spoke to a specific demographic of white Christians again, largely men?  Yesterday, black men in America finally had their moment.  Deal with it.

Yesterday, there was also a wonderful program on KQED, Forum with Dave Iverson, Assessing Racial Equality and Justice in 2013 America.  His guests, Angela Glover Blackwell (PolicyLink), Eva Paterson (Equal Justice Society), and Peniel Joseph (Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Tufts University) brought about a rich conversation that highlighted both the passion and the data behind how we actually see race today in America.  The conversation between the panelists was extremely well balanced and full of great moments, including one where Angela Glover Blackwell said in response to a listener who said they were tired of the conversation about race, “I’m tired of having to come back to the same issues again, and again…but until I see progress, I’m not going to stop.”  You can listen to the conversation and view the comments here.

I’m using the word perspective today and pointing out these news items because I think it is crucial in this conversation, and as we start conversations about race that we maintain perspective.  That we realize that our personal perspective is always skewed in the direction of our personal experience.  If you have never been called a nigger in the street, you can’t understand what that feels like or what that does to your personal sense of safety.  That is the only word in the American English language that carries with it an immediate association with specifically white oppression, violence and privilege.  It is a word that no matter how much one may thing that blacks have ‘reclaimed’ it, will never be able to be anything other than a word of pure “otherization.”  It creates a barrier with its history.  In my comments on the KQED program, I reminded people who were complaining about the focus on “black/white” in the current conversation about race that our American perceptions of race are based almost entirely on the historical relationship between black and white.  You cannot have a conversation about oppression and bigotry against Asians or Latinos or Native Americans in America without talking about blacks.  Just look at the fact that the three groups I just referenced are identified by location or language; yet blacks are identified primarily by a color.  It is the total anonymizing and obliteration of a history and the complete packaging in the context of oppression that s contained in the word nigger and that is why this conversation must continue.  One can claim, Scoth-Irish ancestry, French, Chinese, Spanish, Mayan ancestry, but blacks in America can claim only a vast continent…Africa.  We can’t point to tribes or recognized ethnic groups within the African diaspora, it was erased when our humanity was erased.  When we simply became bodies that were part of the machine of America.

Although I believe that sexuality and gender oppression is the worst global issue, I believe that the lack of understanding between black and white is America’s worst issue by far.  But that is my perspective and the perspective of every other person who has lived with the fear and cultural restriction that goes with our history.  My perspective would, I’m sure be very different if I woke up every morning and never had to think about justifying my education or worrying about publicly expressing my solidarity with other black men for fear of being seen as a threat.  But I will never know that for sure.  All I can do is have compassion for your perspective and ask you to have compassion for mine.

Add your photos to my ‘un-mugged’ project on facebook or tumblr #adamdyersays

Too Little Too Late

LynchingI chose this morning’s word because I was reflecting on things that are unique in the American struggle with race.  In that reflection I realized that part of what has registered for black Americans with the Zimmerman trial and verdict is a throwback to lynching.  The US government sat on its hands for 100 years while thousands of blacks were murdered by groups of white vigilantes.  Blacks were held on trumped up charges and then casually turned over by local enforcement officials to angry mobs who hung, burned, castrated and mutilated blacks as a public display and a threat to black communities.  The current Federal law on ‘lynching’ is not explicit to the act and is fairly deeply buried in the Civil Rights Act (Housing Rights Act) of 1968. In 2005, the US Senate officially apologized for not enacting anti-lynching legislation when it was most necessary.  But by this point, lynching and the mentality that allowed it, was already part of our cultural DNA.

There is no mistaking that shades of the inaction on lynching are evident in the public vindication of a vigilante who decided to tail a 17 year old without provocation…other than his appearance.

Strange Fruit

By Abel Meeropol (Recorded by Billie Holiday)

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
scent of magnolia
sweet and fresh
then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is a fruit
for the crows to pluck
for the rain to gather
for the wind to suck
for the sun to rot
for the tree to drop
Here is a strange
and bitter crop

http://www.americanlynching.com/photos-old.htm

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/245

You can now share your own “un-mugged” shots on my Tumblr page…http://adamdyersays.tumblr.com/

 

Two Men are Lynched in Marion, Indiana