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These are my thoughts, yo.

Filtering by Tag: racism

Just Tone It Down A Bit, Okay?

jasmine banks

I am surrounded by an incredible crowd of people who generally believe they want what is best for me. I'd say about 30% are the kind that REALLY dig deep and support me how need support. Another large percent are people who are just generally good people. They don't set out to be intentionally offensive. They don't cook up ways to be hurtful or damaging to others... they just live. Part of just being, though means that messages that are dominate in our culture infiltrate how you see the world. Not being actively intentional about how your beliefs and world views are formed means that you can, at times, accept the status quo. When the status quo is antithetical to the wellbeing of minorities, just being can become detrimental. Thinking critically is hard, there isn't an app we can use, and often it takes owning mistakes that we don't always feel are our responsibility.

So you aren't marching with the Klan... that doesn't mean you aren't guilty of racial bias and racism.

So you aren't saying people should "keep it at home" or encouraging "reparative therapy"... that doesn't mean you aren't guilty of overlooking LGBTQ needs because of your hetero-normative world.

No one likes to feel guilty. Guilt serves the function of letting you know when you are off track. Guilt is the red flag that signals that something is not right in me and in the world.  There are times that we feel guilty and instead of slowing down and reflecting on what is prompting our guilt signals, we try and squelch whatever experience activated the guilt. Lately, this has meant that those of us who have been calling out the racism we are still experiencing in our communities have been asked to pipe down. We can't make people see too much or feel too much or think too much. We can't remind people that it is 2015 and Eric Garner's family is still wondering how to navigate a new year with the loss of their beloved family member.

You seem so angry and aggressive

You are making this about race when it isn't

Can you focus more on the solution than the problem

You are ruining your reputation by being so hostile

These phrases that folks who continue to talk about race and social justice hear are indications that something is being activated in the people who read and hear our words. We are stirring something up. The request to temper ourselves is a request to lessen the strength of our impact. Did my words offend you? Good. They should. Deaths of unarmed Black boys and men should offend you. Injustice should offend you more than my words reflecting the injustice. 

A couple of days ago a friend saw me for the first time in a while. After she promptly freaked out about me being "SO skinny", a concerned look came over their face. She shifted her feet back and forth waiting for the line to move forward at TJ Maxx and then grabbed my hand. "I want to say this in love. I've seen your posts about Ferguson and all the race stuff... I know you aren't a hateful person." I just stared. And she continued, "I don't think you realize how many people you are alienating. Especially with your "Dear White People" post." I felt my whole body get warm as she squeezed my hand and continued on, "I remember being in my twenties, and being so passionate, but just tone it down a bit, okay? NWA is a small community and I am concerned no one will want to hire you because of your Facebook."

Maybe they won't hire me. But do I want a job with people who require my silence about justice?

I inhaled and looked at the phone cases hanging on the display in the check-out aisle. They were tussled about and damaged from being handled over and over. I looked at her with a controlled smile and I spoke: "It sounds like my feelings about injustice have stirred something up in you... I wonder what it is." She looked jarred. I wondered if she expected me to accept her advice and saunter off. It was clear she most certainly didn't expect me to not take responsibility for how she was reacting to what I had to say online.

She didn't say anything else to me as the cashier gestured she was ready to check me out and I walked away.

The Gas-lighting of Black America

jasmine banks

*WARNING this post contains graphic images*  

Do you know what gas-lighting is? Gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse that people face at the hands of calculating abusers. Gas-lighting is a covert form of manipulation and aggressive behavior that seeks to persuade the victim to doubt their reality. The sanity of the victim is at stake because the perpetrator uses misinformation and various nuances to create doubt in the perceptions of the victim. "I don't think you are remembering correctly," you might hear a victimizer say to their victim. Distorting the perception of the victim ultimately leads to the victim taking on responsibility for whatever offense that was committed against them by someone else.

Sociopaths and individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are the more famous users of the gas-lighting technique. The most insidious feature of gas-lighting is the projected reality the perpetrator creates for the victim to live in. The perpetrator convinces the victim: you are dreaming up the danger, it doesn't exist... what does exist is your judgmental heart. The thing about gas-lighting, though, is that the mind is so resilient. The victim's mind will continue to relay the message that something isn't right in their world. The logical functions within the victims mind will weigh agains what they've been told, what they believe, and who they trust. This constant psychic distress can lead to, what some call, a nervous breakdown.

Black America is having a nervous breakdown.

We've been gas-lighted. We've been told that we have a Black president, we are making money, we have sitcoms, and news anchors, and look-look- look at all this progress! We've been told all these things while simultaneously living in communities that don't seek to protect our interests. We've been told to calm down, we are perceiving it wrong, while officers cut off our airways. When we buck the system and start to see things for the way they are, like Chris Rock pointed out, the gas-lighting returns. Our ruffled feathers get smoothed down by those around us and people start talking about Black Respectability Politics.  Like the battered wife who is told if she would act the way her partner wants her to, she would get hit less we are made to endure debates about how we can be less worthy of being hit. Black Respectability discussions are discussions that shift the blame to the victims: a form of gas-lighting. Some of us drink deeply of the respectability cup because we've succumbed to the gas-lighting. We've divorced ourselves of our own perception and experiential proof and entered into the narrative that the abuser has provided for us.  "... the primary premise in which respectability politics are grounded is that Black American culture – and Black Americans themselves – are broken and need to be fixed."

So how do you recover and guard against gas-lighting?

We must trust our own stories despite what others say about what we experience.

#BlackTwitter is a great example of this kind of intervention agains the racial gas-lighting Black people are experiencing. #Alivewhileblack and other hashtag trends have helped to create a climate where we are taking ownership of our own narratives. We are saying THIS is how life has really been for me.

[Creative Commons Wikipedia]

We must take back our agency.

Agency means we have the right to not debate about identity and lived experiences. Free agency, more importantly, allows us the power to create counter-stories when others engage in patterns of gas-lighting. Constantly reminding others of our reality means that we are no longer allowing others, or ourselves, to be lulled back into the opiate state of "everything is just alright." We get to say, "THIS is the suffering your blind eye is allowing!" We get to validate our reality. The most valuable aspect of allies who fight beside us is how they validate our reality. True allies walk alongside us and empower our agency and amplify our stories. [Creative Commons Wikipedia]

[Creative Commons Wikipedia]

 

The most powerful thing we can do to eject ourselves from the racial gas-lighting dynamic is RESISTANCE.

 

[Creative Commons Wikipedia][Creative Commons Wikipedia][Library of Congress Creative Commons]

Racial Ambiguity: The Problem with Passing

jasmine banks

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a Black man in today's political climate. I am not male so I am limited in what I can truly understand, but I am the mother of a two little boys who are Black. "How Black are they, actually," a friend once asked me. She was exploring the boundaries of her own understanding of identity formation and would ask all kinds of questions. "I mean," she continued, "Garrett is their father and he is Irish and you are their mother and your mother is Belgian. But you call yourself Black and you say they are Black, but aren't they more White than Black?" My patience with my friend is deep. I see her heart and she previously asked me to be a safe person for her to ask some questions that could be considered clumsy.  I talked to her about the One Drop Rule, the history of being light-skinned and passing, and self selection of identity.  She brings up a good point, though: If my sons are able to pass (and are genetically more "Other" than Black), what does that mean about their racial identity. My partner and I have talked through this before. Tobias, our youngest, doesn't have physical features that most would pick up on and identify him as Black. As he has gotten older, he has looked more Black, but likely only to be who are accustomed to seeing White-Black mixed race children. I always joke that if I had not seen this child come out of my body, I might not believe he belong to me. Genetics are magical and frustrating.

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So much about external racial assignment in the United States has been about how to weed out the undesirable members of society. In a lot of ways we've used externally oriented racial identity as a way of managing our own fear. We profile to determine who is dangerous and who isn't. We assign racial identity in many situations before a person has self identified in order to know how to interact with them. In a way, our biases become disarmed when we see a racially ambiguous person. We are forced to wonder "what are they?"  This is a question that I've fielded time and time again. It is an indirect way for people to say, "tell me how you fit in my world view and categories."

What we also see happen with skin politics when people become racially ambiguous is a rejection from both sides. You become not Black enough for the Black folks and not White enough for the White folks.  For some people, being "not black enough" can mean even more concerning identity and social characteristics. This racial double bind creates a chaotic identity landscape to navigate and psychological distress.

Belonging matters to all of us. 

I worry a lot about Tobias, Addison, and Isaiah. I wonder about how they will navigate their worlds and if I am giving them what they need to journey through a really frightening terrain.

So what is my answer? Will I raise my very light skinned son along side his very dark skinned brother as a Black child or a White child or Both, even though his exterior may not reflect that reality.

The answer is this:

Blackness is not a homogeneous identity and it never will be. Blackness is not something you can singularly identify based on physical characteristics (though there are many commonly shared). Being Black is a part of a lived reality.

 Tobias is being raised as a multi-cultural, ethnically diverse child whose primary culture is Black. The problem with passing is that he can tell the world he is White, but the world will always wonder about his Black momma. One.Drop.

In the end, though, it will be his call. He will have to choose what parts of his identity he will advocate for or the world will choose for him.