“The American Justice System” is an Oxymoron

At some point over the past few weeks, I told myself that I would not watch the mainstream news media coverage of the Troy Davis execution.  I learned years ago that our mainstream media sources loved spectacles, especially those that consisted of the deaths and crises of Black and Brown people. Oh, they loved to show us images of poor whites as well, but they always stood in stark contrast to what they showed of us. Anyone remember back in 2005 when white people were “finding food” and Black people were “looting?”  Yeah, that. I also remember the non-stop coverage of the Haiti earthquake, and the never-ending images of the dead and dying that seemed to erupt from my television screen for days on end. I’d had enough, and so I resolved not to watch the impending execution of yet another Black man.

Yesterday afternoon, though, I finished reading Langston Hughes’ collection of short stories The Ways of White Folks. I’m reading for my doctoral exams, and the past week I’ve been steeped in the Harlem Renaissance period and the topic of race and its impact on our nation and culture have been heavy on my mind. The last story in the collection is “Father and Son.”  I won’t give you too many details, but the story is about a mulatto man coming home to see his Black mother and white father, who has never accepted him as his son. As a matter of fact, his last memory of Colonel Norwood is that of the brutal beating that young Bert suffered after calling him “papa” in front of white folks. Bert was “uppity” in the idiom of the day. He wanted his rightful place as heir to his father’s fortune and legacy and refused to accept his proscribed place as just another “darkie” on his father’s plantation. You can imagine that this story doesn’t end well.  Bert and Colonel Norwood have a violent confrontation after Bert (and rightly so) corrects a white woman when she gives him the wrong change. She accuses him of insulting her, and you can imagine the chaos that ensues with that claim in 1930s era Alabama. Yeah, the mob set out to get him. Before they do, Bert manages to kill himself, although they string him up from the nearest tree anyway.  They also lynch Bert’s older brother Willie, for no other reason than he just happens to be around.

I finished this story about the time that the Georgia Parole Board denied Troy Davis clemency. I left the house hoping to avoid the story but kept checking my phone’s twitter feed for updates. I finally gave up and went back home after the Georgia State Supreme court denied Mr. Davis a stay of execution. It was then that I realized that we were about to witness a modern day lynching. I wondered if Clarence Thomas had any inkling of what that really meant when he played the race card back in the 1990s when he was accused of sexual harassment. Based on his lack of sensitivity to issues of race since he’s been on the bench, I doubt it.

Regardless, it was at this point that I realized that I would have to watch the rest of Troy Davis’s story as it played out in the news. As much as I hoped and prayed, like so many of his supporters, that a miracle would occur, I knew deep down that they were going to kill him, regardless of the lack of evidence against him, regardless of the fact that seven of the nine witnesses recanted or changed their testimony, and regardless of the fact that at least one judge did not believe that this man should die based on the evidence at hand.

I believe that the Troy Davis lynching occurred to send us a message and one of the educators I follow on Twitter said it best: “the Troy Davis lynching went public to 1) appease liberals 2) and to keep niggers in check.” White supremacists wanted us to know who is really still in control in this country. They are.  They wanted to remind us that having a Black president means absolutely NOTHING in the face of 400 years of oppressive capitalist, racist, and sexist institutions built on the backs of Blacks for the benefit of whites. They still have the power to kill us, any of us, and do it in the name of American justice. How’s that for progress?

The fact remains, though, that we CAN do something. All of you who were watching, praying, and tweeting have the power in your hands and ballots to make an effective change.  Vote at mid-term elections. The folks who denied Troy Davis clemency were voted into their offices, or appointed by folks who were voted into theirs.  Think about that the next time an election comes up.  Work in your communities to raise awareness about issues of social justice, and teach your children, or the children that you know, about their past, their present, and their future. They are all intertwined and although we no longer see ourselves as merely victims of an oppressive system, we must still work to change it, from within and without.  We DO have the power. Collectively, there are more Brown and Black people in this country than anyone else, and that means that we have the power to change the face of Congress and to change the policies that continue to keep the rich rich and the poor poor.

What bothers me the most about the Troy Davis case is that he could have belonged to any one of us. He is the exact same age as me. He could have been my classmate. He could have been your little brother, cousin, whatever, just as easily as he could have been mine.  I lived in Hinesville, Georgia at the time of his trial and although I don’t remember a whole lot about it, I knew even then that he was another brother about to be given a special brand of American justice.   The kind that kills.

Note: I’ve also posted this on my other blog, so I apologize for those of you who see this more than once.


The Uses of MY Anger

This morning, I was doing a little research and found that one of the scholars I really admire, Barbara Christian, is no longer with us. I didn’t know. And I’m mad about it. Let me explain. I’m saddened and dismayed by the fact that so many of the black women scholar/activist/artists that I admire are no longer walking the earth. Barbara Christian, Audre Lorde, Lorraine Hansberry, Pat Parker, and others have all been taken from us too soon. All of the aforementioned women were taken by cancer, and although that is not the point of this piece, it is surely an odd coincidence.

But this piece is about my anger. I’m angry that with almost ten years of post-secondary education under my belt, I had not heard of most of these women until recently.  Five years of undergrad, not one course on black women’s writing or black feminism. And if you’re thinking that undergrad is ancient history, it’s not. I went back to school as a late twenty-something year old woman. Two years of a master’s in English, nothing about black feminism there either, and the only graduate level black literature seminar my department offered was my last semester there, too late for me to take it. I did, however, take a course on African-American lit, with its obligatory slave narratives and tragic mulattas. No disrespect intended to these narratives, it’s just that I already knew them.  Now that I’m doing a PhD, I can focus my attentions on the literatures that mean the most to me: black lesbian fiction, black feminism, and other contemporary black women’s fiction.

My point here is that in most of my post-secondary institutions, not only was black women’s writing relegated to the margins, in most cases it was non-existent. Now, those of you who have attended schools with strong Black Studies or Women’s Studies programs, consider yourself fortunate. A lot of us have had to fight to include black women’s writing in our syllabi, or justify our reasons for wanting to write about it in the first place. Those of you who know me, or have been reading for a while, know that I’ve been reading black women’s lit since I was big enough to pick up a book. However, I was not introduced to some of the scholarly work of black women until very recently, and the only black feminist I had heard of was Angela Davis. So I’m mad that these institutions denied me the privilege of learning about so many wonderful black women scholar/activists and artists when I was beginning my academic career.

I’m mad because I should have KNOWN.

I’m mad because they didn’t want me to know.

Now, in the world that I live in, ignorance is no excuse, and it has become my goal, my duty, as it has of some of my sister/friends, to write about the women who have helped to shape my thinking about this struggle that we are all engaged in. You BETTER know that every time someone asks me about my work I tell them that I “do” Black Lesbian Studies and that I am a black lesbian feminist.  I don’t care that “queer” is the “hot” term right now; I refuse to allow you to name me. I don’t deal in theoretical abstractions, I deal in black women’s lit and black feminism because they are always attending to the issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality that are such a part of our lived experiences. The author ain’t dead, I AM the author. The women I write about and the thousands upon thousands of women like them ain’t dead either. They are the authors of their own stories, and I want you to know them, to read them, to understand that these stories are as vital to our survival as the air we breathe.

So I keep searching, and reading, and writing; telling anybody who will listen. And even some who don’t.  ’Cause I want them to KNOW.

This is one of the ways in which I use my anger. How are you using yours?