History or Hate? The Confederate Statues of New Orleans

Seeing symbols like these around my city day in and day out would be greatly offensive to me and my heritage. Knowing what my ancestors had to go through and how they were treated for centuries and then to see these monuments would be a grave insult to my sense of identity as a black woman.

by Channon Oyeniran

It’s a topic of debate these days: removing memorials to the Confederacy…Is this the right course of action? A way to heal the deep-rooted pain that enslaved African-Americans and their descendants have endured for centuries? Surely this is a step in the right direction? However, not everyone thinks so. At last, some steps are being taken to dismantle symbols whose histories are steeped in racism. This is what the city of New Orleans is doing by taking down four monuments built following the Civil War. (Though not immediately following the war. Many Confederate monuments were erected during the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras.) However, there are have been protests, as well as counter-protests, over the last few weeks in response to the imminent removal of the monuments. Desktop6The controversial decision to remove these monuments came in December 2015, six months after white supremacist Dylann Roof walked into a South Carolina church and shot dead nine black parishioners. These monuments were built by people who wanted to display that the Southern states should not feel any guilt for having participated in the war. While that point may be debated, it’s no secret that violent white supremacists cling to these symbols. When Roof committed his heinous crime, it sparked a debate about Confederate symbols across the southern states in America. (You may remember the moment Bree Newsome took down the Confederate flag that flew above the South Carolina capital only 10 days after Roof’s attack.) Many see these Confederate symbols as disrespectful, inconsiderate and extremely racist to millions of African Americans and their ancestors, who were forced to endure enslavement at the hands of white men and women for centuries.  

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said this about removing the four Confederate statues:  “Symbols matter and should reflect who we are as a people. These monuments do not now, nor have they ever reflected the history, the strength, the richness, the diversity or the soul of New Orleans.” 4-confederate-monuments-up-for-removal-in-new-orleans-flickr-ap-640x480As times are slowly but surely changing, cities and states around America are attempting to do what they can to rectify the wrongdoing brought against African-Americans in the period of slavery. Last week, under the cover of darkness, masks and police protection, workers began to dismantle the first of the four statues. This is to protect themselves and their families against possible retaliation for being part of taking down what some see as a heritage site. The city plans to move forward with the removal of the remaining three monuments after the New Orleans Jazz Fest concludes on May 7th. The city of New Orleans will seek out a museum or storage area to keep them. Approximately $600,000 has been raised, in private funding, to relocate the monuments.  

To understand the controversy,  we must first understand the history of these monuments, why they were erected in the first place, and what they represent.

Liberty Monument:

LANORbattle_ks03The first monument that was taken down was Liberty Monument. Built in 1891, the Liberty Monument was built to commemorate an uprising by white Democrats, who opposed racially integrating the police force and the Republicans who governed the state of Louisiana. Author Clint Smith commented on the importance of the monument on Twitter. (You can read the entire thread here.) He said, “The New Orleans government then erected the monument to commemorate the battle’s role in establishing white political dominance in Louisiana. All to say, the monument served both a symbolic & literal commemoration to white supremacy. It should have been taken down long ago.” If the history of the monument isn’t enough to convince you, consider this:  the inscription on a plaque that was on the monument from 1932 up until 1993 read in part: “[…] the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.” In 1993, a vote was taken to remove the statue, but instead a new inscription replaced the old one that said: “In honor of those Americans on both sides who died in the Battle of Liberty Place” and called it “a conflict of the past that should teach us lessons for the future.”

Statue of General Robert E. Lee:

A monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee towers over a traffic circle in New Orleans

After raising the funds needed to build this monument, the statue of General Robert E. Lee was erected in 1884 in New Orleans Business District. Robert E. Lee was a general in the Civil War and was known for commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia from 1862 until he surrendered in 1865. Although there are mixed accounts about whether Lee supported or opposed slavery in the southern states, under his command, troops were given permission to actively raid settlements during significant missions like in 1863 when his troops invaded Pennsylvania and were able to freely capture free blacks and put them back into the institution of slavery. New Orleans native, Wynton Marsalis said it best about the erection of Lee’s statue: “Robert E. Lee betrayed his sacred oath to support and defend the Constitution and instead chose to lead an army intent on its violent overthrow — and he lost. The Civil War was a costly victory for democracy, but long after it had been decided, the backwards thinking leadership of this city erected monuments to Confederate generals who had committed treason against the United States — and lost. Lee’s monument was erected to proclaim this arrogance across the ages, and reclaim as a victory what was lost on the battlefield.” Furthermore, Lee himself did not support erecting statues in honor of Civil War generals.

Equestrian statue of General P.G.T. Beauregard:

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Like Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard was a General in the Civil War. In fact, it was Beauregard who ordered the first shots of the war. Beauregard was first selected to be in charge of Charleston, South Carolina’s defenses during the Civil war and then was appointed the first Confederate general officer. He was then appointed to be a brigadier general in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States in March 1861 and then in July of the same year was promoted to full general in the Confederate Army. After the war, and perhaps surprisingly, Beauregard supported equal rights and unification. The statue, however, depicts Beauregard the Confederate general, not Beauregard the proponent of civil rights.”

Statue of Jefferson DavisStatue of Jefferson Davis:

Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. He was also a Democratic U.S. Representative and Senator from Mississippi, as well as the 23rd U.S. Secretary of War. But most importantly. and why the statute is controversial, is that Davis was a plantation owner who owned slaves and financially prospered from the institution of slavery.

Protests:

Although these statues clearly represent racism and white supremacist views to many, there are still those who believe these monuments are a cultural legacy and that they are about heritage and not hate. Harcourt Fuller, assistant professor of history at Georgia State University in Atlanta, said, “Supporters of the monuments see them as part of their ‘historical and cultural legacy’ that needs to be maintained and protected.” In a city that is predominantly African-American, these statues represent a time in American history where their ancestors were treated as less than human, as “property” and nothing more. Activistsconfederate_statues_new_orleans_44962-jpg-24013_83555476ae21103051ffca63afef3369-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000 opposed to the removal of the monuments have had vigils, written articles opposing the removal, been vocal on social media platforms and had intense public meetings to argue against taking down these statues. Things have been so intense that a car of one of the employees hired to take down the monuments was set on fire. As mentioned before, those taking down the statues have had to mask their identity for fear of reprisal against them and their families for their part in this.

Symbols like these statues, which cause emotional trauma to some, should be kept in museums, so that they are not forgotten, but also not in public for all to see. Taking down the statues doesn’t erase what happened, but it makes clear that what happened is not to be celebrated or memorialized with monuments in honor of “the traitors who fought against the United States to uphold slavery.” 

battle-of-liberty-place-monument-afcc3caf84bc7bc4jpg-75f3cf0dac746f00As a black woman, I totally understand why the people of New Orleans would want symbols such as these to be taken down and placed elsewhere (for those who still want to view them and who see them as cultural reminders). Seeing symbols like these around my city day in and day out would be greatly offensive to me and my heritage. Knowing what my ancestors had to go through and how they were treated for centuries and then to see these monuments would be a grave insult to my sense of identity as a black woman. It would be a constant reminder that I as a person am not valued or respected. It would feel like the leaders in my city didn’t acknowledge or care about me, my family, my ancestors and the contributions they made to build that city where we live. I applaud those in New Orleans who have worked so tirelessly to ensure these statues are removed, and I hope other cities soon follow suit. 

“After Hurricane Katrina, the support we received from people all over the world clearly demonstrated their appreciation of our culture and our character. The intensity of this love was demonstrated with unprecedented assistance of all kinds. We should transform the current Lee Circle into an inviting space that celebrates the communal intentions of the international community that helped us survive Katrina. This place would fill the heart of our city with something uplifting for us all and for all times. That, and not the stubborn echo of a shameful period of our history, should be the mythology we strive to teach to our kids and leave for our descendants.”

– Wynton Marsalis


For more information…

Racism in America & The Danger of Color Blindness

“While white parents’ intention is to convey to their children the belief that race shouldn’t matter, the message their children receive is that race, in fact, doesn’t matter. The intent and aim are noble, but in order for race not to matter in the long run, we have to acknowledge that, currently, it does matter a great deal. If white parents want their children to contribute to […] a ‘racially just America’ in which race does not unjustly influence one’s life opportunities, their children will need to learn awareness and skills that they cannot acquire through silence and omission.”

by Michelle Palmer

Not long ago a story went viral about a little girl named Sophia, who went to Target with her mom to pick out a prize for learning to potty. She picked out a doll who was a doctor. The girl was white, and the doll was black. The cashier asked the little girl if she wanted to pick out a different doll because that doll didn’t look like her. But the little girl said, “Yes, she does. She’s a doctor like I’m a doctor. And I’m a pretty girl and she’s a pretty girl. See her pretty hair? And see her stethoscope?”

Desktop6The USA Today article I used to get the exact wording said this, “This account of a ‘color blind’ [sic] kid reminds us of Lydia Rosebush’s son, [Jax] who in February wanted to shave his head to look like his African American friend [Reddy].” (You may have seen that story too.) Both moms who shared these interactions had similar takeaways:

  • This experience just confirmed my belief that we aren’t born with the idea that color matters. Skin comes in different colors just like hair and eyes and every shade is beautiful.”
  • If this isn’t proof that hate and prejudice is something that is taught I don’t know what is.”

My first reaction to both of these stories was to be all heart-melty and happy. But within a minute or so, I sort of got uneasy. The beauty of these stories is that these kids aren’t seeing skin color as something that determines a substantive difference or decreased value to a person. That’s wonderful and beautiful and a good lesson for them at their ages and level of understanding. But the problem is that we, as adults, act as if these stories reveal to us that color blindness is the way forward. We praise them as if they are the pinnacle of racial understanding. But it just doesn’t work that way. Because while Sophia’s mom is half-right and every shade of skin really is beautiful, in our world, color does matter.

Systemic Racism & White Privilege

In short, the heartbreaking reality is that Reddy will have a different experience of life than Jax will. I like to assume that all of our readers are “woke,” aware that both systemic racism and white privilege are very real. But, if I’m wrong, or if y’all just need a refresher, here are some basics:

  • Black children are much more likely to go to low-income, underfunded schools than white children.
  • “…whites with the exact same résumés as their black counterparts are hired at double the rate.”original
  • “A black person with the same education and experience as a similar Caucasian, over the span of their lives, will earn significantly less.”
  • “It is a little-known fact that the average black person pays more for almost every item he or she purchases.”
  • “According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today’s prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%.”
  • “5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites.”

(Sources for these stats can be found here and here.) 

Demonstrators protesting the shooting death of Philando Castile gather in front of the police department in St Anthony, MinnesotaTo further illustrate the issue, I want to point to an excellent piece I found while researching for this post. Bitsy Bentley wrote this incredibly honest account of her experiences in owning up to her own internal racism, which by the way, we all have. I encourage you read the whole thing here, A White Woman Confronts Her Racism, but I think this excerpt gets to the heart of the matter:  “Unconscious bias turns our streets into a dangerous place for black and brown people in our communities, and conflating order with safety is part of the problem. I’d like to see white people change the way we talk about policing in our communities — we need to put safety ahead of order and hold our elected officials accountable for recognizing and dismantling the systemic bias that holds black people in fear.”

Pursuing color blindness, ignoring racial realities, and refusing to stand up against racial injustices and oppression quite literally undermines the safety and wellbeing of people of color in our communities. We all have biases that we must proactively fight, and pretending they don’t exist won’t solve anything.

So, what do we do about it?

I will add a few “how to be an ally” articles to the For More Information… section of the post. But I want to focus our attention on the next generation, on the Sophias and Jaxes of the world. I wrote this particular post this week because of a conversation I had on Saturday. I was with a good friend I hadn’t seen for White silence is violence.jpgages, and we were talking about Tuesday Justice, and she told me about some of the discussions she’s had with her husband about how they will talk to their son about race. He’s only 9 months now, but it won’t be long until he, like Jax and Sophia, begins to interact with the world around him. As his parents, they want him to respect and value people of all races equally, but they also want him to understand the responsibility that comes with his privilege. 

I’m not sure I would’ve known where to begin without this article by Ali Michael and Eleonora Bartoli, What White Children Need to Know About Race. Again, I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here is the most relevant part:

“In particular, the research suggests that for fear of perpetuating racial misunderstandings, being seen as a racist, making children feel badly, or simply not knowing what to say, many white parents tend to believe that there is never a right time to initiate a conversation about race. They talk to their children about race if it becomes relevant in their lives (mostly in negative contexts). Otherwise, they tell their children that people are all the same and that they should not see race.

Civil-Rights-protest-Getty-Images“While white parents’ intention is to convey to their children the belief that race shouldn’t matter, the message their children receive is that race, in fact, doesn’t matter. The intent and aim are noble, but in order for race not to matter in the long run, we have to acknowledge that, currently, it does matter a great deal. If white parents want their children to contribute to what researchers Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer describe as a ‘racially just America’ in which race does not unjustly influence one’s life opportunities, their children will need to learn awareness and skills that they cannot acquire through silence and omission.”

The authors go on to provide a list of content knowledge and skills that we need to develop and help our children to develop as we move forward.

  • Content Knowledge:  
    • Be clear about the meaning of “race.”
    • Understand systemic racism.
    • Learn how anti-racist action is relevant to all.
    • Understand stereotypes and their counter-narratives.
  • Skils:
    • Develop self-awareness about racist beliefs.
    • Analyze media critically.
    • Learn how to intervene.
    • Manage racial stress.
    • Develop authentic relationships with peers of color.
    • Recognize one’s racist and anti-racist identities.

One-dimensional, generic teachings are tempting. They feel easier and safer. […] But raising children who are resilient for justice and able to do their part to create an inclusive society takes more, especially now. And it’s not as hard as it might seem.”

from Are We Raising Racists? By Jennifer Harvey

While we should absolutely teach children that no skin color is more valuable, that our commonalities are greater than our melanin, that we are all in this together, we mustn’t ignore the very real differences in our experiences. For the sake of future generations, we cannot sweep racial disparities under the rug by pretending we “don’t see color.” Yes, it’s complicated, but for the sake of racial reconciliation and justice, it’s worth it.


 

For more information….

Missing Girls in D.C. – What’s going on?

Whatever the TRUTH may be about this complex issue that is happening in DC, we all must remember that lives are at stake and that there are organizations that are doing something about it, providing support and help in any way they can.

by Channon Oyeniran

A few weeks ago, a tweet claiming 14 girls had gone missing in Washington DC in 24 hours went viral. Like many of you who are reading this post, I wasn’t too sure what was going on and what the real story was behind these missing teenagers, specifically black and Latina teenage girls. I didn’t see anything on the news, but I did see stories on Facebook, and from the few articles that I did read, this issue seemed to be not only widespread, but it was problematic, surrounded by chaos and not well covered by the media. I want to share what I have learned about what is happening in the DC area, so we can be better informed and in a position to help, should we chose to do so, and the facts about the situation.

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It’s a parent’s worst nightmare when they can’t find their child, there are no traces of them and the feeling that a huge part of themselves is gone. This is what has happened to many families with black children all over America. While this happens to children everywhere from all different cultures and ethnicities, I am choosing to focus this post on black families, who haven’t had the same opportunity to voice themselves the way others do. According to the FBI, in 2015, “634,908 people were reported missing in the United States and over 40 percent of those cases involve people of color.” Washington DC alone reported 501 cases of missing youth in the first three months of 2017, with many of these youth being black and Latino. What’s so alarming about this is the fact that the public hasn’t heard very much regarding these cases. 501 missing persons cases is a lot to have from January to March 2017. One key factor in why there is so little media coverage about this issue according to a report from 2010 by the Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, says that “African-American children made up 33.2 percent of missing persons cases that year, but they were significantly underrepresented in the media. African-American children received 19.5 percent of media coverage while non-African American children received over 80 percent.” This is a significant difference in the way missing black children in America get their stories showed in the media in comparison to missing white children.


n_reid_muted2_140630.video-260x195With a clear example of how missing cases of black teens is given so little coverage in the media, the short but powerful 2014 film, Muted, directed by Rachel Goldberg, tells of an African-American family, the Gladwells’, who struggle to get the support of media and law enforcement when their teenage daughter disappears. Meanwhile a few days after the teen’s disappearance, a white teenage girl goes missing, and an Amber Alert and reward, with extensive news coverage, are issued almost immediately. This short film is reminiscent of what has been happening for a long time to black families in America and displays larger issues of racism and discrimination. Muted also glaringly demonstrates the lack of value that is placed on black people.

“He said, she said”

I think why this issue is so upsetting for many African American families is for a few reasons: 1) the lack of media attention these missing cases have gotten, 2) the nonchalant attitude from the Washington DC police department, and 3) the assumption that missing black youth run away and are not in any “real danger.” The Metropolitan Police Department has recently started to post missing teens on their social media accounts, and while this does reach many people at a time, it does not offer the same impact that full media coverage would. There seems to be a widespread belief that the black youth who are missing in the DC area left on their own accord or voluntarily. According to NBC news in Washington, “All of the teens who have reported missing in 2017 left voluntarily, police spokeswoman Karimah Bilal said.”townhallmeetingcrowd2_1490231672291_2918928_ver1-0_640_360

However, parents of these missing teens and the community believe otherwise. In an article by Raquel Reichard in Latina magazine, Dr. Vanetta Rather, founder of the organization My Sister My Seed, said it clearly, “Sometimes when girls of color are missing they are deemed ‘runaways’ and sometimes that prevents an amber alert from being sent out, they only send out amber alerts for those who are considered snatched or kidnapped. It appears that when it’s girls of color, there’s not this urgency.” This was the cause of contention between the DC police department, parents, local pastors, activists and young people who took this issue into their own hands by holding a town hall meeting in March to discuss what can be done to cut down on the number of missing children in DC.

Whatever the TRUTH may be about this complex issue that is happening in DC, we all must remember that lives are at stake and that there are organizations that are doing something about it, providing support and help in any way they can. (More on some of these amazing organizations below.)

53150707What are the facts?

Here are some facts about missing black youth in the Washington DC as well as across America:

  • Missing child cases 2015: 2,433 in 2015
  • Missing child cases 2016: 2,242 in 2016
  • So far in 2017, the District has logged a total of 501 cases of missing youth (many of them black or Latino). Only a handful of these have been solved thus far.
  • 22 youth cases remain open as of March 24th 2017, with police having only photos for 13 out of the 22 young people.
  • People of color accounted for nearly 40 percent of national missing person entries in 2014.
  • Missing Person Statistics (Metropolitan Police Department)

Organizations who are doing something about this…

logoAs mentioned above, one of the major disadvantages in locating these missing black teenagers in the DC area, and across America for that matter, is the lack of media coverage and lackadaisical approach in searching for these young people. One of the main aims of organizations such as Black and Missing but Not Forgotten (BAMBNF), is that “every missing Black child and adult receives equal attention in the media and resources towards being safely found.” BAMBNF seeks to create relationships with various media outlets, government agencies and the public to make sure that missing African Americans receive swift attention and concern to garner the best possible outcomes in each and every case. black-and-missing

Black and Missing Incorporated “is a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring awareness to missing persons of color; provide vital resources and tools to missing person’s families and friends and to educate the minority community on personal safety.” Meanwhile for those young people who unfortunately become victims of human trafficking, the DeliverFund, “disrupts global Human Trafficking Markets by combining uniquely qualified personnel with the best technologies, and then leveraging them in new ways to reach and rescue the victims of human trafficking.”

JoyfulChildFoundationThe Joyful Child Foundation’s goal is to “[…]ensure that every child is exposed to personal safety education and opportunities to practice in order to cultivate each child’s instinctual response to recognize, avoid, and if necessary, physically resist and escape inappropriate behaviors or violence.”

These are just some of the many organizations who are raising awareness and doing all they can to prevent children, young people and adults alike from going missing and becoming the victims of human trafficking. I’m sure a Google search will help to locate a nearby organization or group who is doing something about missing persons in your community. Don’t hesitate; help them today!

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For more information:

Black History Month 2017: Reflections

As I reflect back on BHM 2017, I am humbled to see so many people responding positively to what is really another facet of Canadian history and the Canadian experience. I have said it before and I will say it again, BHM is a time to honour the achievements and excellence of a black people who have risen and keeps on rising above the previous and, more importantly, current degradation.

by Channon Oyeniran

“My ultimate dream is that these things — women’s history, black history — are so included in the core curriculum narrative that we no longer need a separate time to celebrate it.” – Denée Benton 

1Slider_blackhistorymonth_2017I know, I know, Black History Month 2017 (BHM as it will be referred to for the remainder of this post) is over…so why is Channon talking about it again?! Well, I just wanted to do a brief recap and take the time out to reflect, think and discuss how BHM 2017 went! For me, BHM 2017 was awesome, one of the best yet! It started off with the Ontario Black History Society’s Annual Kickoff Brunch on January 29th, which is an annual brunch that kicks off BHM in Ontario with performances, awards, a keynote speaker and entertainment. This annual event is significant because it not only kicks off BHM, from an organization that was instrumental in getting BHM celebrated in the city of Toronto, but it’s also a time when black Canadians can come together to acknowledge our history and achievements from those doing great things in the city of Toronto. On February 8th, Historica Canada, celebrated Black Canadian Trailblazers, an evening of storytelling where notable black Canadians in various fields such as media, academia, social justice told their personal stories and those who inspired them. You can see more about that event here and here.

Desktop5Later in the month, I presented at the Burlington Public Library about the different groups of black people that migrated to Canada and at David Bouchard Public School in Oshawa, Ontario where I spoke about pre-European contact and pre-colonial Africa, the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the black presence in Canada. I also attended Afroglobal Television’s Black History Month reception. Afroglobal showcases the best of Africa and its Diaspora through programming that positively and more accurately impact and reflect the experiences and dreams of people of African heritage around the world. Towards the end of the month, I hosted my 2nd annual “Looking Back into the Future” Black History Month Conference. I also had the privilege of watching the brilliantly made and narrated James Baldwin documentary, I Am Not Your Negro. This documentary is so accurately on point about the black experience in America that it’s like James Baldwin is living in 2017 with us! I also attended the Mayor of Toronto’s Black History Month reception that unveiled artifacts from one of the first black churches in Toronto from the 1800s. I also went to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, with 165 students to learn more about BHM in Canada and meet the Honourable Jean Augustine (below in photo), the first black woman elected to Parliament in Canada and who got the motion passed for BHM to be celebrated in Canada in 1995. Such an honour! Whew, that is a lot and there were so many more events, receptions, concerts, etc. to go to in my community and in the city of Toronto that commemorated BHM!! It was a great month of learning, knowledge sharing, commemoration, education, fun and fellowship and was way too short! 

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Although BHM is only officially recognized in four provinces across Canada (this year marking the first year that the province of Alberta is celebrating it), BHM 2017 in these four provinces, as well as the rest of the country, was a busy one, with many different celebrations happening in different towns and cities! From book launches, to festivals, to films, to pop-up shops, to panel discussions, to conferences, to photo, art and information exhibits, workshops669450, plays, seminars, brunches, lunches and dinners, BHM 2017 was jam packed across Canada! It was so exciting to hear about, read and see how many different activities there were to do in my local community and in the city of Toronto. It made it very difficult to decide what to participate in, as the disadvantage of having BHM in February is that, as we all know, it’s the shortest month of the year. However, on the positive side, it is so refreshing to know that there are so many different activities planned for BHM. There is never a lack of things to do during this month.

Reflections:

“Black History Month must be more than just a month of remembrance;  it should be a tribute to our history and reminder of the work that lies in the months and years ahead.” – Marty Meehan

20170228_115821As I reflect back on BHM 2017, I am humbled to see so many people responding positively to what is really another facet of Canadian history and the Canadian experience. I have said it before and I will say it again, BHM is a time to honour the achievements and excellence of a black people who have risen and keeps on rising above the previous and, more importantly, current degradation.

Again, although some people question why a whole month is dedicated to Black history, it is my sincere hope that people will take the time to really learn what BHM is all about, to learn something new and to recognize its importance. It is also with great anticipation that I hope black history will be known as simply just history – a history that includes people that helped shape the world as we know it now.

“That the history of black people is really a part of Canadian history, the contributions that we made to Canadian history, the contributions that we made to Canadian society are part of the contributions we should have made as Canadians in Canadian society. I think that in every aspect of Canadian life you can find someone of African descent, of Caribbean descent, of black… participating and therefore it is essential that, that be recognized by the society.” – Honourable Jean Augustine

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For more information on BHM, what it is and why it still matters, check out these posts from myself and Michelle here and here.

Note from Michelle: One of the coolest things that happened this year was the Black Futures Month project from Huffington Post. Various issues concerning black lives were highlighted, as well as the community leaders working towards a better future.  


 

For more information…

 

Representation Matters!

All people deserve to feel seen and heard, and with stats like the ones presented here, we can be sure that certain stories aren’t being told and certain people aren’t being seen and heard. And it is through stories that we learn, we grow, we empathize, we connect, and we must (and can) do better.

by Michelle Palmer

“It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty, so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror, first through their own families — as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves, and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable. This is something I want for every child of every race.”

– Beyoncé

Awards season is upon us! Love it or hate it, it’s a good opportunity to think about representation. [UPDATE: What is representation? It’s “the portrayal of someone in a particular way or as being of a certain nature.” In this context, we’re talking about how (and how much) minorities are portrayed in media.] Last year was the year of #OscarsSoWhite, and this year’s Oscars is quite a bit better in that respect. There’s certainly still work to do, but it’s a step in the right direction. Today, I hope to show why that’s important and how you can help. And I’m going to do so primarily the words of those more affected by these realities than me.

[Disclaimer: While this post primarily focuses on women and African-Americans, these same principles and concepts apply to all minority groups (Asian, Middle Eastern, Latino, LGBT, disabled, etc.). I hope to cover these groups further in future posts.]

The Stats:

Last year, the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at USC studied the top 100 films of 2015. Here are the main findings of the report:12f5742decd32a87bdbe12dee6a18b43

  • 31.4% of all speaking characters were female.
  • 26.3% were characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.
  • 2.4% were characters with disabilities.
  • 49 films included no speaking or named Asian or Asian-American characters.
  • 17 featured no Black/African American characters.
  • 45 films did not include a character with a disability.
  • Only 32 films had female leads/co-leads.
  • Of those, only 3 of those female leads/co-leads were women from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.

It’s clear that women and people of color are underrepresented. And women of color are affected doubly so. Another report offers these stats: Of all women in the top 100 films of 2014, 74% were White, 11% were Black, 4% were Latina, and %4 were Asian.

Why These Stats Matter:

Lupita Nyong’o sort of introduced me to this whole representation thing and why it matters back in 2014. That’s the first time I really remember thinking about it consciously. She was recalling a time when she “felt unbeautiful,” and I think it sort of shocked me into paying attention….like how could Lupita Nyong’o have ever possibly felt unbeautiful?! I mean, look at her! But she did, and seeing someone like herself on screen and in print made a difference in her life.

representation.jpg“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin… And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then…Alek Wek. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t.”

[See the whole speech here.]rs_634x1024-160710073516-634-leslie-jones-cm-71016

But it’s not just Lupita. It’s also Leslie…

“When I was young, my dad always let me listen to comedy albums. I always knew about comedy, I always loved comedy. The day that I saw Whoopi Goldberg on television, I cried so hard, because I kept looking at my daddy going, ‘Oh my god. There’s somebody on TV that looks like me! She looks like me! Yay! I can be on TV! I can be on TV! I can do it! Look at her look at her! She looks just like me.’”

[See the whole video here.]

whoopie_goldberg-00089And it’s not just Lupita and Leslie. It’s also Whoopi…

“When Star Trek came on, I was 9 years old. And I saw this show and there you were and I ran through the house saying, ‘Hey! Come everybody! Quick! Quick! Look! There’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew from that moment that I could become anything I wanted to be.”

And if none of that convinces you that representation is important, go ahead and check out this list from BuzzFeed, and let their 23 examples get all up in your feels like they did mine.

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Good Representation

But it’s not just about representation. It’s about good representation.9b03fe0c254aa7d20c6376a05fc632d2

In a report from 2015, Dr. Martha Lauzen, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, analyzed the top 100 films from 2014 and found similar results as the report mentioned above, but she also found that female characters were generally younger than their male counterparts, less likely to be portrayed as leaders, and more likely to be identified by their personal rather than professional roles, such as “wife” or “mother.” Recently, Hidden Figures, a 2017 Oscar nominee for Best Picture (which also grossed $144m worldwide at the time of writing), has been a force for undoing the stereotype that a film with women in the lead roles won’t sell. The most recent Star Wars films, both of which have female leads and both of which have earned over $1b worldwide, have also gone a long way to prove the point. Of course, one year with several of these female led films isn’t enough.

grid-cell-5562-1468378667-4In my opinion, much worse is the poor representation that Black men receive, representation that has real-life consequences. Leigh Donaldson makes the case: “Not only does the media’s reluctance to provide more balanced perspectives of our African-American male population worsen cultural division among all people, it enables judges to hand out harsher sentences, companies to deny jobs, banks to decline loans and the police to shoot indiscriminately. The mass media is certainly aware of its vast power to shape popular ideas, opinions and attitudes. They should become equally cognizant of their role as a mechanism of social change for the better of all.”

If you disagree, here are a few reports that may challenge you:

What do we do about it?

“And the way that you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my black friends feel, is empowering. And you make them stand up for themselves.

– Adele (to Beyonce)

imageIn response to Adele’s words, author and activist Ijeoma Oluo said, “Personally, I had a second of ‘huh?’ when Adele was speaking, but I saw that she was trying to do something different. She first said ‘me & my friends’ and then stopped & specifically added ‘my black friends’ – this is honoring our specific experience.” And that’s step #1:  Honor the specific experience of those who are not like you. Recognize that what’s being portrayed might mean more to someone else than it does to you, and that’s okay. 

Step#2: Use your position to create, promote, and showcase any media (music/tv/film/news) that does representation right. If you’re thinking, “What position?” read on: 

– If you’re a teacher, use resources (books and videos) with healthy representation.  (And if you can’t find any, get in touch. Y’all know I love to do some research! Seriously.) Here’s a great list for the little ones: 28 Black Picture Books.

– If you’re an artist, find ways to make your work diverse and inclusive.

– If you have any connection at all to Hollywood or a newsroom or a newspaper, encourage healthy representation and call out the unhealthy stuff.

And even if there’s no way you can use your job to promote or create healthy, diverse representation, you can still use your consumer power to make a positive difference. Acknowledge it. Support it. Point it out. Praise it. Go see Moonlight. Tell your friends about Atlanta. Watch Lemonade and stream Coloring Book. DVR Queen Sugar. Share that cool story from Upworthy

All people deserve to feel seen and heard, and with stats like the ones presented here, we can be sure that certain stories aren’t being told and certain people aren’t being seen and heard. And it is through stories that we learn, we grow, we empathize, we connect, and we must (and can) do better.

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For More Information (A section for updates)

  • Jon Cho on Representation – “Working so steadily, and so eclectically, doesn’t mean he’s choosing roles blithely. In this talk with Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes, Cho presents as someone who’s thought deeply about the performances he undertakes — and those he pointedly doesn’t.”
  • Princess Shuri: The Hero We Needed | The Amherst Student – “The importance of representation in media cannot be understated. For too long the heroes children had to look up to were the James Bonds and the Indiana Joneses of the cinematic universe. Recently, female heroes have been creeping on to screen (i.e. Wonder Woman, Rey, the female Ghostbusters), but “Black Panther” brought new representation to people of color. In her article for Vanity Fair, Johanna Robinson wrote, ‘After a packed advance screening of Black Panther in Los Angeles last week, two young boys went bounding ahead of the crowd leaping for joy and punching the warm night air. They weren’t pretending to be Black Panther, or even another Wakandan warrior. They were pretending to be Shuri.’ Shuri is exactly the hero we need, and she’s exactly the hero that everyone wants. What these boys recognize is the enviable power of a young, female hero. And though it is the young women who may be able to more intimately see themselves reflected in Shuri, she provides an example for all young people for just what power they possess. The realm of representation on screen is only expanding and thus is bringing new meaning to what it means to be a hero.”

Kwanzaa & the Celebration of African Culture

kwanzaa_familyIf you’re like me, you’ve heard of Kwanzaa, have some ideas about what it might be (but actually have no idea). Hopefully we can fix that today! After a very short intro to Kwanzaa, there will be links to some of Channon’s and my favorite videos of African culture, dancing, and music. We will be posting these on our Facebook page throughout the day!

My co-blogger, Channon, sent me to a link on the Official Kwanzaa Website, which was super helpful! You can read the first part here, then go HERE for the rest.

“Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community and culture. Celebrated from 26 December thru 1 January, its origins are in the first harvest celebrations of Africa from which it takes its name. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, a Pan-African language which is the most widely spoken African language.

“The first-fruits celebrations are recorded in African history as far back as ancient Egypt and Nubia and appear in ancient and modern times in other classical African civilizations such as Ashantiland and Yorubaland. These celebrations are also found in ancient and modern times among societies as large as empires (the Zulu or kingdoms (Swaziland) or smaller societies and groups like the Matabele, Thonga and Lovedu, all of southeastern Africa. Kwanzaa builds on the five fundamental activities of Continental African “first fruit” celebrations: ingathering; reverence; commemoration; recommitment; and celebration. Kwanzaa, then, is:

  • a time of ingathering of the people to reaffirm the bonds between them;
  • a time of special reverence for the creator and creation in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation;
  • a time for commemoration of the past in pursuit of its lessons and in honor of its models of human excellence, our ancestors;
  • a time of recommitment to our highest cultural ideals in our ongoing effort to always bring forth the best of African cultural thought and practice; and
  • a time for celebration of the Good, the good of life and of existence itself, the good of family, community and culture, the good of the awesome and the ordinary, in a word the good of the divine, natural and social.” 

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African Caribbean Dance Theater Tallahassee (Live at Leon County Schools)

Amazing African Dance Group choreography with Djembe drumming

Tshwane Traditional Dancers

The Dance Hall | A-Z OF AFRICAN DANCE |

The Very Best – Warm Heart Of Africa feat Ezra Koenig (Official Video)

The Very Best – A Take Away Show in Uganda

FIRST TIME IN NIGERIA – NIGERIA VLOG #1 | AdannaDavid

Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal, The Very Best, Beatenberg – Wona

Mumford & Sons – Ngamila (Ft. Baaba Maal & The Very Best)

Best Nigerian Wedding Video & Dance #OkeyChinelo

Exodus Steel Orchestra Panorama Semi Final 2013

“Shake Body” by Skales – Dance Cover

The Power of Peaceful Protest

Whether it’s 1956 or 2016, the influence behind peacefully protesting is powerful! There is just something magical that happens when people can unite and become one, with one voice, one mindset and one goal. There is power that arises when people join together and make their concerns heard to those in positions of influence.

by Channon Oyeniran

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.”

 ― Martin Luther King Jr.

In a time where there is so much injustice, hate, discrimination, racism and xenophobia going on in the world, I thought it would be beneficial to talk about a way people have long fought these injustices.

400px-nonviolence_protesters-04-16-00Peaceful protesting (which is what I will be focusing on in this post) is a purposeful method in achieving a particular objective by using persuasion and/or pressure. Race has been and still is a key issue in the West, and with the increase of police violence against black people in the United States (more so than ever in the past four years) and the recent election that sees President-elect Trump, someone who has made racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic and a host of other hateful comments, in the White House in 2017, the act of peacefully protesting is hugely important. [Disclaimer #1: We agree with Bernie Sanders when he says, “To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.” We refuse to ignore the hateful messages he sent during his campaign.]

The act of protesting peacefully that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. employed during the Civil Rights Movement is a great example of the change that can be achieved when people come together and challenge what they know to be wrong. The Black Lives Matter movement, which started within the African-American community after the 2012 killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, follows in the same footsteps and seeks to change the blatant systemic racism towards black people and end the resulting violence. I think there’s a lot we can learn from the peaceful protests used in the Civil Rights Movement and apply them to the injustices of today.

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Protests during the Civil Rights Movement

One of the strengths of the Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) was the variety of protest tactics that were used in order to get results and bring about change.. The main objectives of the Civil Rights Movement were to end racial segregation and discrimination against African-Americans, to establish legal recognition and to ensure protection of citizenship rights. Two key events that helped to initiate the Civil Rights Movement were Brown vs. Board of Education and Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.

In 1951, a class action suit, Brown vs. Board of Education, was filed in Topeka, Kansas by thirteen black parents on behalf of their twenty children and asserted that the system of segregation in public schools did not provide separate but equal treatment of both black and white American children; rather it oppressed black students in all areas. It wasn’t rosa_parks_bookinguntil three years later, in May of 1954, after much deliberation, that the Supreme Court ruled that mandating or permitting public schools to be segregated by race was unconstitutional. This event brought the issue of segregation to the forefront of national attention. 

On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks, the secretary of the Montgomery National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger on the bus. As a result of Rosa Park’s action, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was formed and demanded that there would be a bus system that treated all people fairly and equally. After 381 African-Americans in Montgomery boycotted riding buses in Montgomery which resulted in a loss of revenue and in November 1956, a federal court ruled that Montgomery’s buses to be desegregated.

protests-002In addition to the boycotts, there were other forms of peaceful protests that Dr. Martin Luther King and those involved in the Civil Rights Movement engaged in. They included:

  • Sit-ins (Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960)
  • Marches (Selma to Montgomery in 1965) – Marches were the most common form of protest and drew much national attention for the causes for which they were marching.

In its fourteen year existence, the Civil Rights Movement accomplished much for African-Americans, all while maintaining the mandate of peaceful protest established by Dr. King and influenced by Indian Civil Rights leader Mahatma Gandhi. Some of the major successes of the movement include the right to vote, the ban on school segregation, and other labour and civil rights.

Protests during the Black Lives Matter Movement

The strength and success of the various forms of protest in the Civil Rights movement has been revived in today’s civil rights movement, where people ofblack-lives-matter-steps-into-the-spotlight-in-canada-body-image-1468010992 all nationalities have taken to the streets to protest many of the same issues that were at the forefront fifty years ago: racism, discrimination and police brutality.

As previously mentioned, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was started in 2013, after the killing of unarmed 17 year old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Since then, there has been an escalation of extrajudicial killings  of black men and women in the United States by police officers. The killing and “Not Guilty” verdict in the Trayvon Martin case was the catalyst for this movement to be established, and it continues today to be a voice for those who want to finally see an end to the injustices against black people. What started as an online campaign by black community organizers, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometin, has now snowballed into a movement both online and off. [Disclaimer #2: Please note that we are not anti-police. We are anti-police brutality, and we are pro-justice and very thankful for police officers who uphold the law fairly.]

z6icygeThe movement that started in the US has spanned borders and now has a presence in countries  including Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. While peaceful protests remain a powerful tool for the BLM movement, its most powerful tool has been social media. Unlike the Civil Rights Movement, who did not have the benefit of social media, BLM has been able to capitalize on this tool and use it to share its objectives and message with the world. In its fight to end systemic racism, police brutality, discrimination, etc., the BLM campaign has learned from the Civil Rights Movement, taken away from it and found more potent ways to reach the masses and end racism against black people.

Why are protests so powerful?

“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”

 -Mattie Stepanek

Whether it’s 1956 or 2016, the influence behind peacefully protesting is powerful! There is just something magical that happens when people can unite and become one, with one voice, one mindset and one goal. There is power that arises when people join together and make their concerns heard to those in positions of influence. Violent protests often don’t get the same results as peaceful ones and people just end up getting hurt, killed, or thrown in jail.

Check out this bar graph from political scientist Erica Chenoweth. This clearly shows the success rate of nonviolent protests over violent ones.  

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These trends indicate that nonviolent protests are more beneficial than violent protests in getting the message across. (Lots more information on those statistics: HERE!) Peaceful protests have been and continue to be effective then and now because a united front of many people is more persuasive than standing alone.

In Conclusion

In my opinion (and Michelle agrees), peaceful protesting is still a powerful way to achieve goals and set a standard of accomplishing change in today’s society. In order to make an impact and a positive change, activist groups such as Black Lives Matter, can look back and learn from the Civil Rights Movement on how to successfully reach their goals and make a long lasting change.

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This post was planned prior to the news that the peaceful protests in South Dakota led to the halting of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Read more here. This serves to further display the power of protest!


For more information…

GET INVOLVED –> Check out the Injustice Boycott, starting today!

https://www.facebook.com/injusticeboycott/

UPDATE 12/7/16: Another way to get involved!!! Join the #LoveArmy, and sign up here: http://www.thedreamcorps.org/lovearmy