Beyoncé, the Black Panthers, the KKK, Police Brutality, and Slavery

First of all, I feel like I need to apologize for not posting last week. I’m sorry guys, it’s been a bit of a rough go. Maybe I’ll write something beautiful and poetic about it when it’s over, maybe I’ll just create the largest pile of empty wine bottles the world has ever seen, who knows? I’m not gonna limit myself. But in any case, I’m sorry, and I promise it won’t happen again unless I’m like dead or something. In which case, we got bigger fish to fry, ya know?

Now onto the order of the day: Beyoncé. (duh)
A lotttttttt of people were mad about her newest video for “Formation” and subsequent Super Bowl Halftime performance where she dressed her dancers like members of the Black Panther Party.
“It’s anti-police!” they said.
“She’s using racist imagery!” they said.
“What if a white performer had gone out there with dancers in white hoods and cloaks?! There’s a double standard!” they said.
*SIGHHHHHHHHHHH* okay y’all.

Let us begin with the definition of racism. Racism describes a system, say it with me, a SYS-TEM of power in which certain groups of people are purposefully disadvantaged based on their race. It is not limited to just the belief that some races are better than others, though that is included. Some might argue that the definition I’ve presented is not the “dictionary definition” of the word, to which I would ask, as Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum did in her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, “Who wrote the dictionary?” *sips tea* Sociologists are using the systemic definition of the word, and since they’ve actually studied this shit, I’ll take their word for it. Tim Wise actually describes it perfectly in this handy-dandy little FAQ about racism, I highly recommend reading it.

Okay, so racism is a system of power. In this system, certain groups have been given more power because of their race (we’ll call them the dominant group) which means that other groups of different races have been allotted less power (the subordinate group). Because of this set up, and the definition of racism that we discovered earlier, it is impossible for members of the subordinate group to be racist. Please hear me. IMPOSSIBLE. Can they be prejudiced? Yes! Assholes? Certainly! A combination of the two? 100%! But to be racist means to be in a position to wield the power. And members of the subordinate group will never have that power to wield, unless they somehow become the dominant group. (Also quick side note here: “dominant” does not mean “increasing in number”. Just because non-white populations are increasing does not mean that they now wield more social power – look up “Apartheid South Africa” for more on how numbers mean nothing in that regard. Had to clear that up for all you “In 2030 white people will be the minority!” assholes. Shut up.)

This is not to say that all members of the dominant group are doing better than all members of the subordinate group. As Fox News loves to remind us, Jay-Z is rich, Oprah is one of the most influential people on earth, and our president is black. I’ll even throw myself into the mix, I’ve experienced certain privileges that some white people, perhaps in a lower socioeconomic class, have not. As with literally any other thing, there are no absolutes. But there ARE overwhelming trends that point to the existence of a system of power in which certain groups of people are purposefully disadvantaged based on their race. The election of President Obama does not negate the fact that if you drive through most American communities, the richer neighborhoods are predominantly white and the poorer neighborhoods are predominantly black and Hispanic. Oprah’s success does not annul the fact that black and Hispanic men are incarcerated at an alarmingly higher rate than their white counterparts. There are success stories, but those stories in no way undermine the existence of racism, which again by definition cannot be inflicted by the subordinate group upon the dominant group.

So I don’t know if you guys know this but Beyoncé is black (SNL has a really great skit about it if you need to get caught up). All of her dancers were black. The Black Panthers were black. So already, if you’re sitting on your couch saying something about how the Black Panthers were racist, or Beyoncé is racist for dressing her dancers like the Black Panthers, you’re wrong. You’re already wrong. If you don’t understand why, please return to the top of this post and begin again. To say that dressing up as a Black Panther is the same as donning the white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan is again, WRONG. And not just “this is my opinion” wrong, I mean “2+2=5” wrong. Lacking factual support. The Ku Klux Klan is a TERRORIST ORGANIZATION founded on the premise of White Supremacy. They got together way before the Black Panthers (WHICH SHOULD REALLY TELL YOU SOMETHING) because they felt like black people should still be owned as property and now that we weren’t, we were ruining “their” country. To “fix” that, they lynched, shot, beat up, or bombed us at any chance they got.

The Black Panthers, by contrast— look, I’m just gonna straight up grab a quote from Wikipedia, zero shame: “the Black Panther Party’s core practice was its armed citizens’ patrols to monitor the behavior of police officers and challenge police brutality in Oakland, CA. In 1969, community social programs became a core activity of party members. The Black Panther Party instituted a variety of community social programs, most extensively the Free Breakfast for Children Programs, and community health clinics.” Let me paraphrase: The Black Panthers were created because they were like “We’d like the police to stop killing us” (sound familiar?) “so we’re gonna create an armed patrol to defend ourselves. Hey while we’re at it, why don’t we feed some poor kids?” That was it. And of the two (the KKK and the Black Panthers), guess which one was called a threat to national security and got disbanded by the government? Hint: it wasn’t the white guys. #America.

I think the most difficult critique of Beyoncé’s performance for me to understand though is the claim that it, or she, is anti-police. LOL pardon? As I saw on Tumblr the other day, “If ‘Stop killing us’ is anti-police, what is pro-police? ‘Keep killing us’?” It’s a good goddamn question. Shouldn’t we all be weary of the unnecessary killings of unarmed black men? Shouldn’t we all want to check police brutality? Shouldn’t the police themselves be included in that group?

Honestly the issue goes beyond all of this. It’s bigger than Beyonce or the KKK or the Black Panthers or police brutality. The issue is slavery, and America’s piss poor job of reconciling her history. The book I’m reading right now is called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and it’s based on the importance of becoming an emotionally mature human being so you can form healthy relationships with God and all your friends. Chapter 5 is called “Going Back In Order To Go Forward”, and talks about how in order to be emotionally mature, you have to deal with your past. In order to deal with your past, you have to not only look at it but dive into it. Examine all of the painful parts of your history and draw connections to how those painful parts might be affecting your present behavior and relationships. Let me tell you, it’s not fun. No one wants to talk about how their alcoholic father got when he was angry, or how much they struggled making real friendships because they moved so often, or how their mother abandoned them. But unless you learn about yourself and your history and connect the dots when it comes to the present, you’ll be doomed to repeat it (surprise plot twist!) You’ll continue to be unable to form close relationships, or not understand why you can’t get your anger under control. And looking at your past doesn’t mean you dwell there, nor does it mean that once you’ve done it, you’ll be “cured”. Overcoming our baggage is a lifelong process, so much so that I don’t even like the word “overcoming” there because that’s impossible. More like “working with”. It will never be gone but learning to deal with it will make you better.

I don’t think this concept is far off the mark when it comes to America. There is this AWFUL history behind us and we don’t want to look at it. Sure we teach about slavery in schools, but it’s for like a week and at the end of it we get graduates who think the KKK and the Black Panther party are the same thing, or if you’re in the South, people saying things like “I mean, was slavery really THAT bad? People were taken care of!” I mean the confederate flag is still everywhere – EVERYWHERE. And people maintain that the Confederacy was created and the Civil War was fought over taxes and states’ rights, despite the Vice President of the Confederacy’s OWN QUOTE stating “Our new [government’s]… corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.” Like if anyone knew what the Confederacy was about, it would have been that guy. And his government’s flag is currently still being sold as an iPhone case on Amazon.

There has been such great effort put towards underestimating, rationalizing, and brushing off America’s racism problem instead of facing it. Diving into it. Understanding the many painful parts of it so we stop triggering each other. And much like personal baggage, our country’s baggage is not going to go away. There will never be a time when we won’t live in the shadow of slavery, when it won’t inform every interaction between white people and black people. But ignoring it makes it worse. Contrary to idiotic belief, talking about racism doesn’t somehow “increase racism”. To be honest I can’t even find the logic behind that sentence and I’m too tired to try. But I have seen in my own life that talking and learning about my baggage has made me better. And again, it’s uncomfortable. It’s going to take a lot of listening when you want to yell, vulnerability when you want to be defensive, and open mindedness when you want to be myopic. But we have to go back to go forward, and we we have to look back to heal.

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I have this idea that love is brown. Everybody thinks that love is bright red or fiery pink or twinkles like the sun on water, and I think I’m learning that it doesn’t. Love is earth and grit and having a short fuse at the end of a long day. Love is wrestling and working, pushing and pulling. Love is tilling the field.

There are days – maybe moments. There are flashes, snapshots, when love burns red, when it shines like diamonds. But mostly it’s the color of dirt, the color of the ground that holds you. Love is safe and dependable, a steady beat.

I think love is brown, like the colors of our skin.

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME (uncomfortable truths about) FOOTBALL?!

A couple months ago I watched the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith. It’s about Nigerian doctor, Bennett Omalu, who discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease that he found after examining the brains of ex-football players who had died, usually by suicide. He drew a link between the high number of concussions suffered by football players over the course of their careers and an overproduction of tau protein in their brains, which essentially choked their neural pathways, leading to Alzheimer’s-like symptoms with a twinge of violent rage, and then ultimately drove them to do crazy things like taser themselves to the point of suffering a heart attack, drive the wrong way on the freeway, or drink a gallon of antifreeze. It was super, super gnarly. As you can imagine, the NFL was not thrilled about this guy telling everyone that football was dangerous and low key tried to ruin his life but I’ll let you watch the movie to see how that unfolded.

Okay so this was a really tough movie for me to watch for a few reasons. Aside from Will Smith’s complete hack job of a Nigerian accent (still recovering), I had a hard time with it mostly because I love football. Like. L O V E. Now I know whenever a girl says she loves football everyone looks at her sideways and low key thinks sexist things like, “She’s probably just saying that to impress boys” … “I bet she only cares about the uniforms” … “She’s only watching because she thinks the players are hot” … “I bet she can’t name any stats”. *side eye emoji*. To be honest, you can think whatever the fuck you want, doesn’t change the fact that football is mine (and God’s) favorite sport.

I know a lot of people—like a LOT of people—think football is barbaric. They think it’s boring, they think it’s dangerous, they think it’s exploitative. And like okay maybe some of those things are true lol. But it’s also so beautiful. I can’t fathom the presence of mind and awareness of body it takes for these VERY LARGE MEN to be cognizant of the placement of even the tips of their toes as they come crashing to the ground. I watch in awe of back-bending, half-blind, one-armed catches that snatch a ball like a speeding bullet out of mid-air. I see the explosive freedom when a receiver breaks away and heads down the field for an 80+ yard rushing touchdown. I love hearing the fervor in the announcer’s voice against the backdrop of the crowd’s roar. The seconds as the play clock winds down before the snap provide a tiny buildup of adrenaline that’s like heroin. I told you guys, I love this game. I feel like it at once appeals to our basest levels of aggression and our highest echelons of intelligence and strategic thinking. Like Alec Baldwin’s character says in the movie, “It is a mindless, violent game, and then it’s like Shakespeare.”

But what happens when the poetry kills the players? Every snap, every play, every tackle, these men are getting hit REAL hard. Titans by no exaggeration, clashing and colliding with every bit of their enormous might. Not to mention what happens when that might is multiplied by momentum, as these men run at full speed in an effort to knock their opponents of their feet, and sometimes it seems, their opponent’s heads off their necks (I’m looking at you, Odell Beckham Jr.) And yeah you can say that these players know what they’re getting into, that they signed up for it. But I’m like… did they? Do they actually know the dangers present? Because even I would say I didn’t take concussions seriously enough before this point. Like of course getting a concussion isn’t GREAT, but I don’t think its dangers are even nearly accurately represented. Boys are told to shake it off, rub some dirt in it, you know the drill. And even now I can feel my brain wrestling to assimilate the new information into my existing paradigm.

Simultaneously though, it seems to be common sense. Don’t get hit in the head. If you accidentally do, don’t do it again.Certainly not on purpose. CERTAINLY not multiple times a week, months at a time, for decades. That can’t be right. That can’t be safe. But then Ira Casson (former co-chair of the NFL’s Concussion Committee) goes on TV and tells us “There is not enough valid, reliable or objective scientific evidence at present to determine whether or not repeat head impacts in professional football result in long-term brain damage,” (CBS News) and we’re like, welp he’s a doctor so. Must be legit!

I find this so compelling because it dances into the arena of willful ignorance. Like how much are we prepared to overlook in order to continue enjoying the things we enjoy. My friend sent me an article the other day written by a white woman whose 5 year old son had just recently learned about that one time white people killed a bunch of Native Americans and stole their land, aka the foundation of this country. He was concerned (justifiably so), that his house specifically was built on such ill-gotten terrain (probably true). And the author described the visible war within himself as he tried to reconcile his love for his house with his disdain for murder and theft. As she put it, the conflict between “I’m comfortable with the things I have, but I am uncomfortable with how I came to have them”. I imagine this is the thorny bush that pops up when white people are confronted with their privilege. And even though I’m not white, on some level I feel I can understand the discomfort. Taking it back to football, as I’ve made abundantly clear by this point, I love the sport. It is quite literally the highlight of my week, I am VERY comfortable sitting on my couch all day watching nine hours of it. But I am uncomfortable with the idea that, in order to keep me consuming their product, the NFL might be purposefully withholding information from players that could save their lives.

And you know what, I have no idea what to do with that. I wish I could tell you that since watching Concussion and subsequent documentaries on the matter, I’ve had a complete change of heart, but like, I 100% didn’t. I came home from that movie and watched the Redskins game a few hours later—which also I can’t believe calling them the “Redskins” is still a thing but that’s a whole other blog post. In my own defense, I DID feel a little weird about it? But I definitely still watched. And you can bet your ass that I’ll be tuning in along with millions of other people to watch the 50th Super Bowl this Sunday (Let’s go Peyton! Even though I’m real proud of you Cam!) I dunno, I guess there’s no real conclusion here. There’s no resolution, sorry if you were looking for one. It’s just provoking to think about willful ignorance, and consider the numerous areas of our lives where we may have turned a blind eye because we wanted to remain comfortable. Yikes.

Well on that note, ENJOY THE SUPER BOWL FRIENDS! CONSUME IN EXCESS! DRINK TO FORGET ALL THE UNCOMFORTABLE WAYS BY WHICH WE’VE ACQUIRED THE THINGS WE’RE COMFORTABLE WITH!