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Spoken word artist Crystal Valentine performs a very emotionally charged poem titled “Black Privilege” in a poetry slam competition. One of the most moving lines in her poem tackled the issue of police brutality against black men, and the scourge of gun violence taking way too many young promising lives in urban communities. She says “Black privilege is me having already memorized my nephew’s eulogy, my brother’s eulogy, my father’s eulogy, my unconceived child’s eulogy. Black privilege is me thinking my sister’s name is safe from that list.” Valentine is one of six performing poets who represented NYU at the poetry slam this year. Her team ended up winning which was no surprise to anyone who listened to her performance.
Ms Valentine makes me proud to be part of a resilient culture who takes oppression and intolerance and turns it into extraordinary talent and beautiful artistry. If you’re not moved by her amazing 3 minute video clip, you should contact a doctor immediately because something is seriously wrong with you. She poured her heart out on that stage layering vulnerability on top of confidence on top of self critical introspection. There aren’t many people who can touch your soul with just a few words. That’s power. That’s talent. That’s the power of blackness.
The verdict for the George Zimmerman trial is in and a jury of his peers has found him not guilty of murder 2 as well as not guilty of manslaughter. Although I am saddened and deeply disappointed in this verdict, if you look at how the law is written and the instructions given to this jury I do not think they had any other choice. I know there’s a lot of people who will find fault with the jury, some will find fault with the presentation of the prosecution’s case, some will find fault with the strategy used by the defense and there are legitimate arguments for all of those points, but the real injustice of this case and verdict has nothing to do with any of those. The real injustice of the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman case occurred when racial profiling intersected with legal self defense… here’s what I mean: All that is needed to convert a cold blooded murder into a justifiable homicide when evoking self defense is a reasonable fear that your life is in eminent danger. Whether that fear was real or imagined does not matter and whether you initiated the confrontation does not matter. Legally all that matters is your fear. There’s no refuting the fact that Trayvon was racially profiled by George Zimmerman. It’s disgusting, it’s horrible it’s morally wrong but believe it or not racial profiling is 100% legal. Racial profiling is openly used by law enforcement every single day. In this country racial stereotypes and assumptions are ingrained and reinforced in the psyche and subconscious of most Americans and rarely even challenged because they are presented as fact. Here are a few examples. If you ask most people (both African American and white) who they think benefits more from government assistance and food stamps, almost all of them would say African Americans benefit the most. But that is not true at all. According to the 2010 US Census 33% of whites were receiving government assistance via food stamps while 22% of African Americans received them (http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0572.pdf). Another example of this racial perception vs reality shows up when people are asked about drug abuse. Again, the public perception would have you believe that African American’s are more likely to be drug users than whites. And again, this is not true. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/NSDUH-M9-Youth-Apps-2012.pdf), researchers found that 9% of white young adults struggled with drug abuse while only 5% of African American young adults had substance abuse problems . I’m not pointing this data out to say white people are bad and African Americans are good or maybe not as bad. In fact I’m sure I could find studies and research that will show African American’s in a much harsher light in other areas when compared to whites. But when we use racial profiling and let racial stereotypes stand unchallenged, we create a situation where African American youth are arrested for drug crimes at a rate ten times higher than that of whites despite proven research that says they abuse drugs much less. We get right-wing media and politicians telling their base that African Americans are dependent on food stamps which implies African Americans are the only recipients despite facts that says otherwise. We get people like George Zimmerman shooting and killing an unarmed teenager without having to serve a single day in prison. I can’t say whether or not Mr Zimmerman is a racist because I do not know this man. It’s very possible that he was unaware of his racial profiling of Trayvon. Something in his subconscious labeled Trayvon as a criminal the moment he laid eyes on him and in that very moment George Zimmerman decided he was going to catch a criminal and be the hero of the neighborhood.
I’ve heard a lot of different opinions from friends and family since this case became a national story. I’ve argued in forums, I’ve read countless news stories, and I’ve watch pundit after pundit comment and editorialize. Anyone who says this case isn’t about race is extremely naive or horribly uninformed. Race was evident in almost every discussion I took part in. Almost all African Americans were saying Zimmerman was guilty, but most whites did not share that opinion. This puzzled me for a while because some of my white friends also thought Zimmerman should be found not guilty. Maybe if I didn’t know them I could chalk their opinion up to racism and dismiss it, but these were people who I knew were not racist at all. Not even close to being racist. So there had to be some other explanation as to why the opinions about George Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence usually divided straight down racial lines. This became very clear during the last day of the trial when I watched the defense give their closing. At the end of his speech to the jury, defense attorney Mark O’Mara held up a picture of Trayvon Martin. It was a picture of Trayvon shirtless with a baseball cap. Mr O’Mara held up that picture and said to an almost all white jury this is who George Zimmerman encountered that night. At that very moment I knew what the verdict would be. I knew what Mr O’Mara hoped to do with that picture. He wanted the jury to put themselves in George Zimmerman’s shoes that night. And that’s exactly what the jury did. I bet every single woman on that jury would be scared to death if they encountered an African American male in the dark of night alone. The scary big black criminal rapist is the image they have been taught to fear their whole lives. That fear is in the subconscious of every white woman in this country whether they know it or not. As an African American man I have witnessed countless examples of this irrational fear. I’m 5’6” 125lbs always impeccably dressed and I’ve had white women that would not get on the elevator in my doctors office when they see me in it. I’ve seen white women rush back to their unattended handbags in their shopping carts when they see me coming down the aisle at the grocery store. I’ve heard car doors lock as I pass them in a parking lot. A majority of these women are most likely not racist at all. They have been conditioned to fear black men. When African American’s see the pictures of Trayvon they see their brother, or their cousin, or their son, but when most white people look at pictures of Trayvon they see a thug, a criminal, a drug user, or a drug dealer which is further evidence of their conditioning.
The thing that scares me and should scare a lot of other young African American males is now this acquittal of George Zimmerman says to America that your irrational fear of African American men is enough to justify cold blooded murder no matter the circumstances. The precedent has been set. Take racial profiling, add irrational fear, plus self defense and you got a legal way to kill as many black men as you want. What a fucked up reality in which we live.
Over the past couple weeks we’ve learned about top secret government programs designed to seek out terrorist who wish to do harm to the United States of America. What started out as a small leak has turned into a gushing waterfall of classified top secret information. First we had a story about the Department of Justice secretly seizing two months worth of phone records from the Associated Press without a warrant. These records were seized in an effort to identify the Associated Press’s informant who leaked very sensitive classified material to an AP reporter that jeopardized an ongoing CIA mission and could have cost the lives of those carrying out the clandestine mission if the target became aware of it. Keep in mind that the DOJ only obtained the numbers called both inbound and outbound, but never listened in on any phone conversations or asked to see transcripts from any phone conversations. A few days after that story broke another revelation came to light. The DOJ obtained a warrant for Fox “reporter” James Rosen’s email account to find his source for a 2009 report about North Korea responding to a United Nations sanction with a nuclear missile test. Yesterday another classified leak of US intelligence occurred. Cellular service provider Verizon complied with a top secret court order (issued in April 2013) to give the National Security Agency information on all phone calls from all of their customers in an indefinite ongoing daily basis. Then before we had time to digest this troubling occurrence, another government surveillance story broke. A reporter from “The Guardian” uncovered a top secret government program called PRISIM that allowed them to access or monitor any US citizen’s internet use and read anyone’s email.
If proven true, all of these secret surveillance operations are a stain on Obama’s presidency, a stain on law abiding American’s civil liberties, and a stain on the credibility of the DOJ and the NSA. I have to say this is the most disappointing and troubling part of an otherwise amazing presidency. We all know president Obama is a pragmatist but his unbelievably fast evolution on the issue of civil liberties makes me determined to find out why. Before he was elected president his position on Bush’s far reaching Patriot Act was very clear. He was very vocal about his opposition to most of the bill. Especially the statutes about government surveillance on law abiding citizens. After he won the election all of this changed. If I were a cynic I’d chalk it up to politics and probably believe that he knowingly misstated his position to get elected. But that’s not the Obama I know. Everything about his life shows a man with immense integrity, so I have to give him the benefit of the doubt. I think his change was prompted by some pretty scary intelligence that only him and a few top advisers are privy to. Being president has a huge burden that comes along with the job. You are responsible for 300 million people every day of your life for 4 to 8 years. The fate of the entire county rests in your hands and every decision you make could have dire consequences. I’m not making excuses for him infringing on American civil liberties, but I can understand why he may feel it necessary to do these types of things. It’s easy for me to feel outraged by it all when my outrage carries no consequence. So as you watch these issues unfold in the news, please keep that in mind and respect the enormity of that type of responsibility. These are complex issues and the president has to weigh the safety of nation against what is allowable by law. If his actions are indeed legal, then we have to ask ourselves if we’re just going to criticize pontificate and debate endlessly whether or not we feel comfortable with the government having this tool available to them, or are we going to push our elected officials to remove the legal ambiguity that was purposely written into bills such as the Patriot Act? Government as an institution will never voluntarily make itself less powerful, nor will any president. For that to happen the people have to be united, organized, and dedicated to restoring the principles that made this country great. I’m not willing to give up my civil liberties in order to maybe possibly probably catch one or two suspected terrorist every now and then. We are the smartest most technically advanced country in the world so there’s no way anyone can convince me that spying on law abiding Americans is the only way to fight or prevent an act of terrorism.
Bayard Rustin born on March 17, 1912 – died on August 24, 1987.
An American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, pacifism and non-violence, and gay rights. In the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Rustin practiced nonviolence. He was a leading activist of the early 1947–1955 civil-rights movement, helping to initiate a 1947 Freedom Ride to challenge with civil disobedience racial segregation on interstate busing. He recognizedMartin Luther King, Jr.‘s leadership, and helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to strengthen King’s leadership; Rustin promoted the philosophy of nonviolence and the practices of nonviolent resistance, which he had observed while working with Gandhi’s movement in India. Rustin became a leading strategist of the civil rights movement from 1955–1968. He was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which was headed by A. Philip Randolph, the leading African-American labor-union president and socialist.Rustin also influenced young activists, such as Tom Kahn and Stokely Carmichael, in organizations like the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
After the passage of the civil-rights legislation of 1964–1965, Rustin focused attention on the economic problems of working-class and unemployed African Americans, suggesting that the civil-rights movement had left its period of “protest” and had entered an era of “politics”, in which the Black community had to ally with the labor movement. Rustin became the head of the AFL–CIO‘s A. Philip Randolph Institute, which promoted the integration of formerly all-white unions and promoted the unionization of African Americans. Rustin became an honorary chairperson of the Socialist Party of America in 1972, before it changed its name to Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA); Rustin acted as national chairman of SDUSA during the 1970s. During the 1970s and 1980s, Rustin served on many humanitarian missions, such as aiding refugees from Communist Vietnam and Cambodia. He was on a humanitarian mission in Haiti when he died in 1987.
Rustin was a gay man who had been arrested for a homosexual act in 1953. Homosexuality was criminalized in parts of the United States until 2003 and stigmatized through the 1990s. Rustin’s sexuality, or at least his embarrassingly public criminal charge, was criticized by some fellow pacifists and civil-rights leaders. Rustin was attacked as a “pervert” or “immoral influence” by political opponents from segregationists to Black power militants, and from the 1950s through the 1970s. In addition, his pre-1941 Communist Party affiliation was controversial. To avoid such attacks, Rustin served only rarely as a public spokesperson. He usually acted as an influential adviser to civil-rights leaders. In the 1970s, he became a public advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian causes.