5th Tuesday Guest Post: Photographing Black Girl Magic

Note from Michelle: When I saw the photos from this project, I was floored. I knew this was something that needed to be shared far and wide, so I asked Katie about writing up a little something for Tuesday Justice. I’m so glad she agreed. This is what it looks like to use your privilege and be an ally. Thank you, Katie! Check out more of her work here


by Katie Hoffpauir

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The journey to this project took a little over a year, and it began as something so utterly simple. I wanted to document natural hair: the curls, the fro, all of it. But what started out as me wanting to take photographs of just hair morphed into something completely different, and I am so thankful that it did.34536308_10103233196156260_4917672386381217792_o

One day this past May, over a year after the idea came to me, I was walking around our local Barnes and Noble. Now, on a normal bookstore trip, I leave with at least two new books and probably some kind of puzzle. On this particular trip, however, nothing was standing out to me. I walked the aisles for well over an hour and not one thing said, “buy me.” As I was getting ready to just give up, I passed one of the center tables and the only, I mean the only book that I saw, was Black Girl Magic. I tend to take signs literally, and I knew that I needed to really do this project. Only, at that moment, I knew it was turning into something else. I felt it in my bones, this urge to photograph black women. Not only for their beautiful hair, but for their inner beauty and their strength. 

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This feeling took me to Pinterest to research portrait styles and trends for photographing black women in particular. And do you know what I found? Not a whole lot. There were literally photographs of white women for every single scenario, but mostly only ad campaigns featuring black women, and not very diverse ads might I say. Immense sadness washed over me as I realized that young black girls growing up don’t see themselves portrayed in a positive light very often. We’ve seen a growth in representation, sure, but is it necessarily mostly positive? The black women portrayed in most movies or tv shows are loud, obnoxious, or out for revenge. Just turn on just about any Tyler Perry movie, and there’s a black woman out for blood (usually over a no good man). Or in any white movie, she’s the token black friend plugged in for the sake of variety. We must change the stereotype that women of color are only two-dimensional, and we must teach our young people to not only SEE but CELEBRATE color. So often, I hear white people say that their children are taught not to see color. But you guys, color should be seen! We have to show our children that there is no shame in color; that there is beauty and strength in our differences. 

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When I posted about needing models for this project, some asked if they could bring a friend. This simple question took me not only into documenting an individual’s beauty, but their friendships. 

34556028_10103233195442690_7440125358134788096_oTo say I was excited about this turn of events, doesn’t do the feelings I had justice. The morning of the first session, I was a little nervous to be photographing three women. But then when we met up, every anxiety faded away, and I knew exactly where I needed this project to go. It became a need to showcase not only photographs that were about strength, but photographs that showcased a sisterhood and love. It became so much more than what I envisioned a year earlier. Each portrait day, these women were stopped by others on the street, telling them how beautiful they were. And at the end of each session, there was a sense of joy and pride present that I can’t explain.

I have never in my life felt so invigorated while photographing anyone, and that week of sessions did more for my soul than anything I had ever done before. I made new friends, and I met some fierce and beautiful women of color. These women work in social work, they deliver babies, they teach children, they are mothers, sisters, daughters. They are bold, beautiful, educated, courageous, and kind. They embody love, loyalty, and wisdom. They are a wonderful force for good in this world and we need to celebrate their melanin. Because it is amazing. 

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Black Books Matter: The Importance of Diversity in Children’s Literature

by Channon Oyeniran

Reading is essential to everyone, but I think most importantly to children! For this Tuesday Justice post, I want to focus on children’s books and the importance for kids to read diverse books and read (or hear) stories with main characters who (unfortunately) aren’t normally showcased.

Why it’s important for Ara:

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My son, Ara, loves to read! Every night before bed either my husband or I will read him a story, and on the nights when we are both too exhausted to read a bedtime story to him, he will remind us! One of his favourite books is Please, Baby, Please by Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee. Not only is reading to children important at his age (my son is two, but much younger in the photo), but it is also important to choose books and stories that represent and reflect who my son is, his life and his realities. More and more I am on a search to find books for Ara with main characters who look like him and stories that showcase black people in a positive light, rather than through the negative views that all too often describe black people. I also want my son to read stories where he sees characters from all walks of life that teach him to be accepting of everybody he meets and encounters. 11340497Living in Toronto, I know my son will encounter people from various cultures and backgrounds, and we want him to see everyone as equal and important. Representation of black people and other minorities in a positive light, especially for children, deeply matters because for far too long, black children grew up without seeing powerful, strong role models who looked like them, whether in books, on TV or in real life! (In fact, this is such an important issue for me and my desire for my son to grow up with the experience of seeing black people just like himself has even made me want to write a children’s book on black history in Canada. Stay tuned…)

Why it’s important for white children:

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Not only is it important for black children to see themselves represented in an uplifting and positive way, but it is also important for children who aren’t black to also see black children represented in this way as well. For centuries, black people have been portrayed in a negative way, oftentimes being displayed to the masses as foolish, stupid, angry, dangerous, uneducated, oversexualized, etc, etc, etc. There is no shortage of negative images and portrayals of black people, so when we are portrayed in a positive and uplifting way, it is crucial that children (actually, all people) see these images and hear our stories. When we open up our children’s minds and hearts at an early age to diversity and inclusion, they grow up to become adults who treat others equally and don’t judge people based on isolated experiences. But rather, their upbringing and the stories they read as children would have shaped their views about people who look different than them. Reading is so powerful and the stories that are told can be even more powerful! That is why starting our children at an early age to read stories about different people and cultural groups is significant to their growth, learning and shaping as human beings and global citizens.

Marley Dias & #1000BlackGirlBooks:

“I’m working to create a space where it feels easy to include and imagine black girls and make black girls like me the main characters of our lives.” – Marley Dias

download (1)Marley Dias definitely understood at a young age the importance of reading and the importance of finding stories where the main characters are black girls. At the age of 11, Marley was tired of reading stories that had the same main characters, main characters that didn’t look like her or anyone in her family. So in November 2015, Marley launched the campaign #1000BlackGirlBooks, with the mission to find and list children’s literature that have black girls as the main characters. As of June 2017, not only did Marley accumulate more than 9,000 books, but she also obtained her own book deal! Marley said of her experiences with books before she started the campaign, “Frustration is fuel that can lead to the development of an innovative and useful idea.” After doing some research, Marley realized that there was a lack of books that had black girls or girls of colour as the main character and that if she was frustrated by the lack of representation in children’s books, then many other people probably were too.

Marley said after doing research and being in a position to try and change this problem, “I had a lot of choices about how I was going to address this problem. Option 1: focus on me, get myself more books; have my dad take me to Barnes and Noble and just be done, live my perfect life in suburban New Jersey. Option 2: find some authors, beg them to write more black girl books so I’d have some of my own, special editions, treat myself a bit,” she said. “Or, option 3: start a campaign that collect books with black girls as the main characters, donate them to communities, develop a resource guide to find those books, talk to educators and legislators about how to increase the pipeline of diverse books, and lastly, write my own book, so that I can see black girl books collected and I can see my story reflected in the books I have to read.” 

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She, of course, chose option 3 and I’m so glad that she did! Not only did she see a problem, but she recognized the gap and decided to fill it. Now, this campaign has not only benefitted her but benefits other children, and impacts the education system, so that more books on diversity are taught to all students. I love what Marley Dias has created and I love that she is shining a light on an issue such as reading that is so instrumental in the shaping of our children’s minds, thoughts and foundation.

So, now what? 

At Tuesday Justice, we like to let our readers what they can do, how they can get involved. This one is easy:

Read books to your kids!

Read books with diverse characters. Read books that tell stories about people of other ethnicities, other races, other cultures. Read books that teach empathy and inclusion.

And if you don’t have kids, buy those kinds of books for your nieces and nephews and cousins and friends’ kids.


For more information…

Books for children:

GUEST POST: thoughts on parading in the streets while denouncing the actions of the government

by T.J. Webb

 

event-featured-Tara-Laase-McKinney-1504621335If you are like me, you may be really wrestling with whether or not today should see you donning an American Flag t-shirt, throwing the kids in the sidecar, waving tiny American Flags, and driving down to participate in the local parade like you do every year (or whatever your annual 4th of July tradition is). It’s hard to know how overtly patriotic to be when the nation is in the midst of such moral crises. Are we permitted to parade in the streets while privately and publicly denouncing so many of the actions of our government and the words and standpoints of our elected officials?

I don’t know the answer. I don’t think I would judge anyone for celebrating, and I don’t think I would judge anyone for giving the 4th of July a miss this year. I keep being reminded that tomorrow is, first and foremost, a Patriotic holiday. That means it is a celebration for anyone who loves our country, who is thankful for America and what it stands for, for the ideals upon which we are founded. It is not a Jingoist holiday; that is, it is not for those who would celebrate our right, by virtue only of our nation of birth, to dominate or oppress others. It is not a Nationalist holiday; that is, it is not for those who would celebrate the supremacy of America and Americans over all other lands and people, for the creed of America is inherently inconsistent with Nationalism.

We Hold These Truths
So, tomorrow I will be celebrating this wonderful nation along with my family and friends, because we love and are very thankful for our country. We will wave flags, we will wear our shirts, we will eat Freedom Fries and Hamburgers (Ameriburgers?). We will celebrate that ‘America is the only nation founded on a creed’, and that creed revolves around the equality of all men and their right to justice. We will remember that we are a nation of immigrants.

history-550x286But if someone’s pride in America is of the sort that sees our primary duty in the world as promoting our own interests regardless of the suffering of others, or of seeing our own people- or a subset of our own people- as more inherently deserving of dignity and compassion, or if the phrase “they aren’t Americans” seems like a valid justification for acts of cruelty or inhumane usage… Might I recommend that they stay home and watch TV instead? Because the 4th of July is the celebration of the fact that “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” If that isn’t an idea that your conceptualization of American can get behind, then this probably just isn’t the holiday for you.

And yes, I realize that would mean it would be a quiet 4th of July at the White House.

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Resource List: Understanding the Border Crisis and How to Help

by Michelle Palmer

UPDATE: After this was originally posted, President Trump signed an executive order reversing the family separation policy. However, thousands of children are still separated from their parents, and the crackdown on immigrants remains problematic. Help is still needed, and there are ways for us to get involved. For more, see Trump’s Executive Order On Family Separation: What It Does And Doesn’t Do from NPR.


It takes a grave issue to warrant the first ever edition of “Wednesday Justice,” and this one is. To not have heard about what’s going on at the US-Mexico border over the last several weeks, you’d have to be living pretty far off the grid. But even if you have heard about it, you may not understand quite what’s happening or why. Full disclosure: we don’t have a great grasp of it either. It’s complex and confusing and heartbreaking. Channon and I have been tied up the last couple of weeks with personal projects, which means we’ve not been able to dedicate sufficient time and energy to understanding this issue as well as either of us would like. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do! We’ve gathered links that will help us understand the issue better, as well as ways to help.

What’s going on?

Updates on Executive Order from June 20:

What can we do? 

– CALL YOUR SENATORS!!! It’s super easy. Call the capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and read the script.

Script 1:

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Script 2:

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– Check out this regularly updated Google Doc from Feed Our Democracy: Action Plan for Helping Immigrant Families Torn Apart at Border

Join a protest on June 30. (Louisiana folks, here’s the link for the protest in New Orleans.) UPDATE: This is STILL ON, post-executive order.

Donate! These organizations are funding operations ON THE GROUND:

And lastly, I want to leave you with some of the best commentary I’ve read on the matter, from one of our very own guest post authors, Vershal Hogan:

Forget “be the change you want to see.” Be the change that you CAN be.

When something awful is happening a long way off, there’s only so much you can do — and you should do all of those things. Agitate the proper authorities. Give money to relief agencies. Keep talking about it on social media (and in real life!). Put the squeeze on wherever you can.

But then take to heart the message about rising tides lifting all boats. Find something in your local community you can do to improve things there. The fastest way to change hearts and minds is to meet needs.You may not be able to give out blankets at the border, but — after you call your Senator, of course — you can give out blankets at your local shelter. You may not be able to walk with the labor organizers marching on the Capitol, but — after you call the governor — you can give someone the $50 they need to get their car fixed so they can go to work. You may not be able to house every homeless veteran, but — after you call your representative — you can give someone a ride to the VA.

(And honestly, if you’re saying “what about ‘x'” in response to someone else’s concern, then you need to be sure you’re actually working to address ‘x.’)

Maybe none of those things are an option. Maybe you are tethered down with work and family and legal obligations. Maybe your good is even smaller. But do it. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone.”

Until that season comes when you reap, do what you can when you can — be it online, in the streets or under your roof.

 


For more information…

 

5th Tuesday Guest Post // Food Insecurity: The Hunger Next Door

“I cannot feed the world. But I can do my best to make sure fewer people have to stare down the last can in their pantry.”

Huge thanks to Vershal Hogan for offering to write a second guest post for us! You can see his first Tuesday Justice post here: The Day I Became a White Man Was the Day I Became a Black Man: A Story About Race.

by Vershal Hogan

I will never forget that can of stewed tomatoes and okra.

The pantry in our dingy-walled apartment, where the rent was late but we were still within the grace period, was empty. Margaret-Holmes-Tomatoes-and-Okra-14.5-OZ

Except for that can. 

It had come, I think, from a box of government commodities my grandmother had received. I am not sure how it ended up in our pantry, but it sat there, waiting for someone to figure out what to do with it. It was not appealing.

For the past couple of days, my wife and I had been slowly scaling back how much we ate to make sure our children didn’t go hungry and that the groceries would last. That evening, the family had eaten the last of everything, and I had quietly skipped the meal. Payday was the next day.

Everyone else was in bed, and I was alone in the pantry, staring at that can, the last food in the apartment. Hunger finally said, “Enough.”

I took it off the shelf and walked over to the counter where I slowly opened it, and — crossing the room to sit at the table — ate one of the worst meals of my life directly from the can.

How I had gotten there was a mix of personal mistakes and bad timing. I’d left my former job to return to school, but the national recession that almost immediately followed that decision had made finding work difficult; I had three over-the-table jobs (my wife also had an under-the-table childcare arrangement) and still didn’t work enough combined hours to be considered full-time. Rent claimed most of that (minimum wage) money, fuel prices were high and we lived without frills. Because work was slower than anyone anticipated when we made our plans, we were forced to eat the savings we had.

We were able to buy groceries the day after I ate the tomatoes and okra. We came close to repeating that story a few times — our pastor even pulled us aside in a couple of instances and said we could avail ourselves of the church’s food pantry if we needed to — but we never got quite that desperate again.

That experience changed how I saw food security, and it has remained with me in better times.

What is food security?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food security and insecurity in four categories:

Food Security

  • High food security (old label=Food security): no reported indications of food-access problems or limitations.
  • Marginal food security (old label=Food security): one or two reported indications—typically of anxiety over food sufficiency or shortage of food in the house. Little or no indication of changes in diets or food intake.

Food Insecurity

  • Low food security (old label=Food insecurity without hunger): reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.
  • Very low food security (old label=Food insecurity with hunger): Reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.

Reports at the USDA’s Economic Research Institute show that in 2016 12.3 percent of households in the U.S. — nearly 15.6 million people — were considered food insecure at some point that year, and 7.4 percent of households — 9.4 million people — were considered to have low food security. The ERI reported that, like in my own story, parents and caregivers worked to shield children from reductions in food intake, but 298,000 households still saw children face disruption in how often they were able to eat. 

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So why is this a justice issue?

It seems obvious on its face, but many people don’t realize how critical food — especially healthful food — is to a functioning society. People who are hungry are very often people who are not healthy, and people who are hungry and unhealthy are not going to be able to function as well in their jobs or in their schools.

Food insecurity likewise tends to affect groups that are already in danger of disenfranchisement, which means — because they are less likely to perform well or be healthy — they will continue to be marginalized.

The rate of food insecurity for all groups is 12.3 percent, but as the USDA statistics note, some groups tend to face it at higher rates than others:

  • All households with children (16.5 percent),
  • Households with children under age 6 (16.6 percent),
  • Households with children headed by a single woman (31.6 percent),
  • Households with children headed by a single man (21.7 percent),
  • Women living alone (13.9 percent),
  • Men living alone (14.3 percent),
  • Black, non-Hispanic households (22.5 percent),
  • Hispanic households (18.5 percent), and
  • Low-income households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty threshold (31.6 percent; the Federal poverty line was $24,339 for a family of four in 2016).

Issues of food security are especially high among those with disabilities, with 33 percent of households with a person with a reported disability keeping them from the workforce reporting food insecurity.

But even for those who fall outside the groups typically identified as marginalized, food insecurity mostly likely means whole-life insecurity. Studies have associated food insecurity with diminished mental health status.

So what can I do?

First, be aware that many people are hiding their own food insecurity. I volunteer at a local food bank every week, and one of the things that strikes me is how very normal most of the people look. Many come through after finishing a shift at work, or in their work uniforms. In some cases, people who qualify for the assistance have someone else picking it up for them, often because they are unable to do so themselves. 

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Second, recognize that it is likely not a choice. While an adult with food security issues may look typical, they may in fact have a hidden disease such as a mental illness or neurological condition that may have good and bad days that makes consistent or full-time work difficult. They may be a caregiver for someone with a disability, or they may be stuck in a cycle of unemployment or trying to exit an addiction. They could be a child or young person without the capacity to fully provide for themselves.

Third, donate. Give money or food to a local food pantry or a backpack program, which — in cooperation with local schools — distributes backpacks of food to students in need before they leave each weekend.

When you donate, don’t send expired food or food you wouldn’t eat yourself. While some food banks have some wiggle room on expiration dates, it’s not much and they will have to throw them away. Besides, what are you really saying if you’re giving a food insecure person a can that expired in 2014 and telling them, “I wouldn’t eat this, but you can.”

You should also likewise consider giving a little variety of food. Food drives tend to bring in lots and lots of cans of corn and green beans. Those are needed, but man does not live on grain and legumes alone.

While many food banks need most of their food to be shelf stable, some — including the one where I volunteer — have freezers and can put up meat and dairy. Check to see if they can accept those items. Families appreciate being able to receive items such as cheese or butter.

Desserts are also a nice donation. Some people might want to gripe about poor people eating sweets (thinking that being poor is a moral failing that deserves to be punished), but if they’re coming through our pantry, they’re receiving other foods. When life is hard, sometimes a piece of cake may serve its own purpose. food-pantry-northjerseyDOTcom

And one final thing on donations — consider cash. I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating. Food donations help stock shelves, but during some seasons (i.e. when it’s not Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter) they tend to slow down. Having cash on hand helps the pantry not only keep the lights on but restock when needed.

Fourth, donate time. I know not everyone can do this, but food security organizations — whether they are independent or linked to a faith community — overwhelmingly rely on volunteer labor. It’s not glamorous, but someone needs to move boxes and stock shelves.

Fifth, vote for people who are going to support food security policies. Many pantries are able to operate in part because they participate in USDA commodity programs or other local, state and federal initiatives. Discussions in recent years have hinted that funding for those services may be reduced or ended altogether.

I cannot feed the world. But I can do my best to make sure fewer people have to stare down the last can in their pantry.

 

The Socially Conscious Artistry of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”

by Channon Oyeniran

Video-Of-The-Day-By-Childish-Gambino-This-Is-America-Featured-On-Diabolical-Rabbit.jpgNot your ordinary feel good, music pumping, fun and colourful music video, Childish Gambino released “This is America” to the world on May 6th, and it has been a hot topic on all social media platforms since. Both the video and the song itself provide powerful social commentary, highlighting a variety of issues that are as relevant today as they were centuries ago for the black diaspora, not only in America but around the world. After seeing some buzz about the video on Facebook, I decided to watch it. I was struck by all that was going on in the video, the flashy dance moves, the beat of the song, all while trying to pick up what was going on in the background while Gambino was dancing, striking poses and showing off an impressive array of facial expressions. After my first viewing, I saw a few more articles on Facebook about the deeper meaning of the video. I was blown away that I had missed so much! I went back and watched the video at least four times and picked up on so many different symbols in the video. I would like to share three of the motifs within the video that you can easily miss if you let the catchy beat and entertaining dance moves distract you.

Guns vs. the worth of a black body:

There’s a pretty staggering image at the start of the video that struck me the first time through. (If you’ve seen it, you probably know exactly the one I mean.) It’s when Gambino pulls out a gun and shoots a black man in the back of the head. In doing so, he strikes a pose that is reminiscent of the Jim Crow character. After he shoots the man, Gambino carefully places the gun on a red cloth, while the black man’s dead body is dragged away. 980x(This motif is repeated when he places another gun neatly away a second time after he shoots church parishioners, a clear reference to the 2015 Charleston shooting of nine churchgoers.) It struck me how carefully Gambino places the gun back, almost as if he was being careful and giving reverence to the gun; meanwhile, the body of the black man was given no respect at all, not even a thought or look as he is dragged away out of the scene. This is an obvious nod to what is going on in America (and frankly around the world now) concerning gun violence. Guns have more rights, are more protected and are taken more seriously than the lives of black people.

The cell phone as a powerful (yet ineffective) tool for justice: 

“This a celly…That’s a tool…”

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In one scene, you see the camera pan up and focus on about four people with cell phones in their hands, taking video of the chaos taking place below. At this point, Gambino raps, “This a celly…That’s a tool…”. This lyrical line signals the power that a cell phone has to capture the injustice that happens daily against black people in America. The cell phone has been used to capture concrete proof of injustices against black people time and time again (e.g. Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, Demetrius Hollins, Rolesville High student, Jacqueline Craig, Keith Scott,  teenager at a pool party, Charlie Kinsey, etc.). However, it still proves to be ineffective in actually bringing justice and righting the wrongs of injustice committed against black people.

Some have speculated that the cell phone can also appear to be a weapon in the eyes of some, just like the case with Stephon Clark, who was murdered on March 18th, 2018 because the cell phone he was holding was “mistaken” for a gun. So although a powerful tool to capture injustice, holding a cellphone while black can also prove deadly. Whether this was intentional or not is unknown, particularly because of the short period of time between Stephon Clark’s death and the release of the video.

Black culture used as entertainment, while black lives are disposable:

Something else that struck me when watching this video, especially for the first time, was how much I got caught up in watching the dancing and enjoying the beat of the song. My eyes did not automatically go to what was happening behind Gambino and the dancers and the depth of what was occurring in each scene. 

Childish

I think for a lot of other people, including myself, who watched the video, we got sidetracked with the dancing and upbeat flow of Childish Gambino’s lyrics. I think that was part of the point. Black culture is so popular and influences every part of society; people from all cultures and backgrounds enjoy different aspects of it, music especially. However, when it comes to black lives, police brutality, racism and injustice against the black community are commonplace, and the world seems to turn a blind eye to these injustices that are literally killing us. 

Socially conscious art, like this music video, helps engage all who watch it, thus stimulating large-scale discussion on the subject matter covered in the video and raising awareness about things like racism, police brutality, suicide, gun violence, etc.  There are so many other meanings and symbols in this video that make it a masterpiece. The depth and thought that was put into this video is genius, and I really hope invokes thought and change for all who watch it. This video is important not only because it uses music to garner people’s attention, but also because it speaks on a very significant issue which continues to plague the black community but is often a tricky and sensitive topic – racially biased police brutality. I believe this video achieved what it set out to do, and that is to talk about a real problem facing America and how easy it is and has been for people to look the other way to the plight of the black person.

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For more information…

The Basics: Racism

It’s worth asking, “Is what I just said racist?” So we can learn how to not say racist things. It’s worth asking, “Why did I assume the worst from that person? Was it the color of her skin?” So we can learn how to not make judgments based on race. It’s not fun, but it’s worth it.

 

by Michelle Palmer

A couple weeks ago, I was in a conversation, and someone mentioned a stereotype about black Americans and followed up the comment with, “Wait, is that racist? I never know.” (It wasn’t.) He’s an intelligent person, and it bugged me that he “never knew” if things were racist or not. But it kind of makes sense.

There’s so much talk about racism in the news and on our social media feeds right now. And the truth is that not everyone thinks deeply, if at all, about racism. Even though Channon or I have probably said everything in this post here on TJ before, it’s important for us to break it down to the basics so the word doesn’t lose meaning altogether.

What is it?!

The dictionary definition of racism is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” What Dave* (name changed to protect the innocent) said what he did (which I now don’t remember), it was racial, in that it had to do with race, but it wasn’t racist because it wasn’t an indication that he felt himself to be superior on the basis of race.

Part of the confusion about when something is “racist” is that there has been a pervasive push towards “colorblindness.” It’s led to a world where it can feel awkward to acknowledge a person’s race. Attempting to see people without acknowledging their race is neither possible nor helpful. Acknowledging race isn’t racist, but making judgments, particularly negative ones, based on race is.

BUT WAIT. There’s more.

“Racism is a concept that operates on both an individual and institutional level. […] At its core, racism is a system in which a dominant race benefits off the oppression of others — whether they want to or not.” (Zeba Blay) That’s why there can’t be reverse racism. Yes, people of color can be prejudiced against white people; it’s happened to me. It wasn’t fun. But as a white person, the system operates in my favor and always has. (More on that is coming at the end of the month.) This explainer by Michael Harriot is helpful, Reverse Racism, Explained. (DISCLAIMER: Harriot’s writing can be quite colorful.)

What do we do about it?

I cannot stress this enough, fellow white people: WE ALL HAVE INTERNALIZED PREJUDICES. (You can take a test here: Project Implicit.) Yes, all. Step #1 is to admit that sometimes you have racist thoughts. Yes, you. Yes, me. Yes, all. Step #2 is to catch yourself when you think those thoughts, and then analyze and correct them. Then, here are steps 3-8 (in no particular order):

  • Read THESE Tuesday Justice posts.
  • Get educated. (Don’t know where to start? Click here.)
  • Do a cleanse! (Bias Cleanse)  
  • Widen your circle by making friends from other racial backgrounds.
  • Broaden your understanding by following people of other races on social media. 
  • Keep working on your mind: Pray about it. Meditate on it. Listen to podcasts about it. 

Like so much of what we talk about on this blog, the work of challenging our own racist perceptions and ideas is hard, but it’s worth it. It’s worth asking, “Is what I just said racist?” So we can learn how to not say racist things. It’s worth asking, “Why did I assume the worst from that person? Was it the color of her skin?” So we can learn how to not make judgments based on race. It’s not fun, but it’s worth it.

As always, if you have questions or need help to get started, reach out to us in the comments, on Facebook, or by email


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