Feminist meditations on transforming power and privilege

Xenobia Bailey, Sistah Paradise’s Great Wall of Fire Tent (installation view, John Michael Kohler Arts Center)

My grandmother taught me that when you are working things out, emotional or otherwise, talk to yourself. Talk it over with yourself until your mind is clear and your body sinks with lightness. So, I’m one of those shocking crazy people who talk to themselves all the time. As a child people thought I was mad, I’d wonder off in the distance talking and talking, forgetting I was getting further and further from home. Luckily, I also had a grandmother who never tired to entertain our madness. This time calls on us all to talk to ourselves, to practice truly listening with self first in preparing for the hard and bruising conversations with each other in a world that is broken and requires mending. Facebook is evil but is a platform to talk to self. In here speaking to self this morning, as usual…

“The thing about oppressive systems and spaces is that they are oppressive. Emotionally draining, structurally and intellectually blind to their true nature. Their violence, their gaslighting ways that cut deeper than skin. They erase everything about the world and then proceed to create the world in their image, leaving no room for imagination of how the rest of the world could look different. With rules and rituals and reinforcement they cement the oppressions, proceeding to co-opt everything in the space into tools of its own reproduction.

Those on the sharp end of the knife have their lives circumscribed as perpetual performances of resistance. When they get tired, have no more fight left in them or must choose the battles to maintain their sanity, they are labelled. When they no longer have the patience to educate, persuade, teach, perform the theatrics of holding fragile sensibilities, they are unhelpful. 

Before you ask a person who does not hold power and privilege within a system or space “what can we do”, think about the gaslighting effect of that, and remember to ask also “what can we stop doing”. If they tell you once, listen and hear. Or else you’re not interested in changing, and that is violence.

Before you tell a person in a situation where they are outnumbered by the stacks of privilege “oh but you have power you can just speak”, ask yourself, is this really true when seen from their perspective. 

Before you ask someone in a structurally oppressive system ” be propositional”, consider whether they haven’t been trying to be all this time and you didn’t hear because privileged ears are deaf. 

Take time to remember the many times when they did propose and because your privileged ear which hears only the echoes of its own interest wasn’t capable of hearing, you didn’t, you couldn’t hear. Consider that asking people to be propositional is violent, is a tool of silencing, because people who are without real power in an oppressive system or space don’t go around mouthing off meaningless things, they are always speaking, even with their silence, they are speaking. Read what feminists have said about strategic silence, or just be decent and wonder when someone is silent, why because everyone has a mouth and has ideas. People are never without a thing to say. 

Each time they speak, they are being propositional. If you don’t know how to listen to them, it is not their fault. And before you are tempted to ask what exactly are you saying, consider that with 5 words you just ripped their heart, erasing them only to ask them to get over it and show up in the way that serves your interest. 

So consider if the way the space of conversation is structured is off putting or silencing, or if people have just given up because they’ve experienced that it’s not worth it. And consider that giving up is not weakness, it is an act of survival for those sitting on the knife’s edge of an oppressive space or system. Sometimes people chose not to “fight” any longer because they either know the space is not able to survive their unleashing of things they really think and feel. Or, they are not ready to deal because each time they must do this talking and taking on, the energy they extend is like circling the globe three times. And they will be the ones left there to live with the muscle pain and you’ll be moving on with your life. Consider that speaking, taking on for those without real power and privilege is wounding. And the thing about oppressive systems and spaces is that they have instinctive capacities for defaulting to their ways, to wound and do so violently. 

And no, oppressed people don’t get to bear the burden of your fragility as the powerful ones in a system or space. That’s your work. Practice allyship by working on oneself. Because each time your response is “oh but that’s personal attacks”, it means you’ve not reconciled with what it means to be an embodiment of an oppressive system and the cost of responsibility you have to bear on the way to your so called allyship. 

So, show them you care, you are here, then let them be. They will come when they are ready, and if they do not, just keep being kind and doing everything else you need to do as the one with power and privilege within an oppressive system or space. Stop hiding behind oppressed people by shoving them to the front or putting them on the spot, that patronising and violent invisible hand, “go ahead, speak, we are listening, we want to hear your voice”. Consider that when people haven’t been heard for so long, they stop believing that oppressive systems are capable of listening.

Before you jump to building structures, creating processes, apportioning positions trying your hand at “levelling the playing fields”, recognize that there is hurt and pain and it is sitting in the bodies of those without power and privilege in a system or space. And the thing about things that sit in bodies is they take time to exorcise. Bodies are fields of chemical reactions where it can take one trigger to create an explosion inside a person who does not hold privilege. Do not gaslight them for feeling things that only bodies can feel. Consider first your behaviours. 

Consider starting with “what will it take for this space to hold your need to heal”. Then rituals must be in place that affirm over and over the belief that those who hold power and privilege in a system do really want to change, that the space is willing and is doing the work of being different. 

No, to say is not to do. So, ease off on the declarations and words. Symbols matter greatly in this but declarations of intent are not symbols, they are tools to make us feel good, or a little less bad as the privileged. 

Consider that blindness is a luxury, a con actually, in this day and age. “Blindness” is itself an act or strategy of maintaining privilege. You can tell me how many times you ‘re an ally, stand on top of the Himalayas screaming anti-racism, anti-patriarchy, anti-homophobia, blah blah. You can build structures and all, but if I do not feel it, It’s not real. Remember that the thing about oppressive spaces and systems is that they erode belief. 

So, behaviours that affirm belief must be foremost. They must feel real and authentic. Being “willing to change means being vulnerable”. That great feminist theoretician and intellectual Dawn Kavanagh says always, “our vulnerability is our power”. That is true, because in being vulnerable together we recognise each other’s humanity. We build a new space where in time, healing may be possible because there is now a neutral space where empathy is both a value and a currency of a new kind of power. Yes, empathy is not a warm and fuzzy thing, it is a thing of deeply political and material value. 

But remember that vulnerability is a two-way street. We must both be naked in the street otherwise it’s not building a foundation of equality. If I haven’t seen you naked, asking me to be naked in front of you is violence. It’s reducing me to a performer on a stage whose rules are not mine, and of course I can act. But consider that people in a system or space that is oppressive go through their daily lives within that system or space in perpetual performance. So, don’t be violent. Give people a break from the acting. Workers fought for an 8-hour workday for a reason. But remember also that systems or spaces of oppressive power and privilege dehumanise, it will take time for people who’ve gone through daily dehumanisation to see the humanity of those holding power and privilege (who embody the system) within the space. So, these rituals of vulnerability must be exercised over and over.

So, all this talk about diversity, read Angela Davis’s lectures, educate yourself about its pitfalls and how the concept is being instrumentalised to mask the real transformative work required. 

On inclusion, feminists have said it, inclusion in untransformed structures is co-option, participation in bolstering structures whose only job is to uphold the very systems of oppression. Yes representation is a right for those “excluded” from power but consider how you will make representation meaningful. What is the new thing being built that is capable of holding true and genuine “inclusion”? Consider this, is inclusion really possible in structures built inherently from a foundation of privilege? 

Take time to figure out your answer and be prepared to be honest. Consider that sometimes suicide is what is needed for transformation to happen. No, it’s not the knife on your throat, its surrendering privilege, those acts of nakedness together. Its recognising that you’re not the cradle of humanity, cleansing yourself of your sense of supremacy. This is an art and a hart (art of the heart) which makes it ultimately a science.

No, don’t patronise people, it’s not handing over power, it’s not charity, its transformation.

Nobody wants to be handed a rotten power. It’s building a new formula of power, on new foundations. Its patronising to keep talking about handing over power, too many overtones. 

We must consider, what are our constructs of “change”, both as those on the knife’s edge and on the side where power and privilege is weighted. 

Blah blab blah. 

Oh and consider that this can’t be put in a log frame. Indicators are important but its tangible acts and tangible experiences of something different from oppression. If oppression is a negative application of power and privilege by those who have it, a negative experience of how power and privilege works by those on the receiving end, then the converse, the creation of space, behavioural codes, rituals that both distribute and make possible a positive experience of power. From the power within to the power with.

Consider that this is about “culture” change, and culture is as much about things that are felt as things that are seen (the material, the symbols, or markers). So, you can put up material things but if attaining those things is itself violating, it’s not change, its torture. And you can make people feel warm and fuzzy and “included” but it’s not transformation, it’s not inclusion, it’s co-option. So, consider your recipe for inclusion, that inclusion is more than the sum total of your performative acts as the ones in whose favour power and privilege is weighted…”

And then proceed to hold humility as intonga nomsimelelo wakho (a stick for you to lean on). That means considering the idea that systems of oppression are historical, layered, cellular, that the experience of those who live in bodies that systems of privilege and power cast in role of “victims”, even when they do hold positional power, is like being on a treadmill, that the overtures and efforts of your space or institution will not be enough. 

Systemic and systematic oppression damages in deep ways. Reparations, justice is the only balm. But that in itself is so big. So, be honest about the project, be humble because if you cannot hold your own disappointment about how even when you “mea culpa” 5 times a day, people are still not happy, then you’re not honest. So, do not make it about you, it’s not about you, it’s about the experience of those on the receiving end of the system’s abuses. And, please don’t ever ask people to stop being triggered. This is not curation, people can’t curate when and how they respond in one situation, compartmentalising in the way that you would like. Be humble, work like a donkey to transform yourself so you don’t show up as the system itself anymore. Khulula longubo yobugwenxa, masihambe ze sizozibhenca bhenca sizijonge sizilungise!

Oh by the way, blame Hope Chigudu, Everjoice J. Win, Shereen Essof, Dawn Kavanagh, Phumi Mtetwa…, and all these other feminist witches dead and alive. Witches always be poisoning and corrupting innocent minds. 

(Photo Credit: Elephant)

Save the Bleach: Yudhiṣṭhira’s Insight

Save the Bleach: Yudhiṣṭhira’s Insight

“You don’t need to be in no hurry
You ain’t never really got to worry.
You don’t need to check on how you feel
Just keep repeating:“None of this is real.“

And if you’re sensing there’s something wrong
Well just remember It won’t be too long 
Before the Director cuts the scene

This ain’t really your life 
ain’t  really your life
ain’t  really your life…”

— Gil Scott Heron —

The New Age is an Old Lie

Old Colonial strategies neither die nor fade away
They are just rebranded and sent into virtually reality
And sold online to people too young 
To remember snake oil salesmen.

Or, broadcast out over Zoom 
To create 
Family of choice simulacra 
Resembling the opening of The Brady Bunch
A celebrated family 
That didn’t actually really exists either.

This Neo-Divide and conquer

If America becomes a Towering Inferno 
Don’t you realize That there are no ladders long enough to reach you 
On the 108th floor.
To save you from the burning 
If the lower floors are alight.

Will you sit in a circle and sing Kum ba yah?
(‘cause that’s not your song either)
Or perhaps chant the lyrics from Maureen McGovern disaster movie songs 
And hope it extinguishes the flames?

There’s Got to be A Morning After
And We Will Never Love this Way Again
But will we be here to love 
When the sun rises on America tomorrow?

The Ku Klux Klan no longer wears sheets 
1000 thread count Egyptian cotton is just too expensive
And it so much easier to just run for office.

Or cluster at seminars that teach the art of Hap-why-ness
Selling crystals 
Yoni eggs 
And exorbitantly priced aroma therapy bath salts 
To wash the stress away 

Take me away Calgon bath oil beads no longer strong enough 
To wash away the day
Something stronger is now needed
As America convulses.

“Stand as far away from me as you can and ask me why
Hold on to your mālā beads 
Close your eyes And watch me die”.

If you’re not angry 
Then you’re just not paying attention.

As “Mind-less-ness Meditation“ exhorts us to  
Watch our breath
And become comfortable in our seats
Presumably so that our meat won’t be too tough
When they slaughter us 
Just before they make us into Soylent Green

Or send us out into the world prematurely like cannon fodder 
To see if COVID-19 
Is really as deadly as they think it is

As they KNOW it is.
New opiates for a New Age
Being “spiritual” does not mean being clueless
In the tradition of:
Dayānanda Sarasvāti,Ram Mohan Roy
Mohandas K. Gandhi, 
Srī Aurobindo, 
Srī Yukteswar [in his younger days]; 
Arundati Roy
Malcom X,
Rosa Parks 
Fannie Lou Hamer
Martin Luther [Mike] King Jr.
Nelson Mandela; 
Alice Walker; 
Ruth [Ruthie] Wilson Gilmore; 
Angela Y. Davis
and Barak Hussein Obama

To name ONE — as a Vedāntan would say.

Great ONES who knew how to work through their relative selves 
To help To change 
Our ONE world.

The face of yoga is that of a Dravidian sage.

Save the bleach for COVID-19
But don’t use it to denature the Ideas and Ideals of Brown skinned people
For memes
Twitter and Facebook quotes
Or monuments designed to rewrite history.

Embodied ideas are more confrontational and problematic to consider
Then New Age tapioca and flavorless tofu teachings

If that wasn’t true
Barak Obama’s presidential portrait would be unveiled 
And Harriet Tubman would be on the $20 dollar bill.

But instead of celebrating the Queen of Freedom 
And the Underground Railroad
We build fences around 
And fortify a statue of 
The President who drove the Trail of Tears.

“We think of faith as a source of comfort and understanding 
But find our expressions of faith sowing division
We believe ourselves to be a tolerant people
Even as racial, religious, and cultural tensions roil the landscape
And instead of resolving these tensions or mediating these conflicts
Our politics fans them
Exploits them
And drives us further apart.”

Now who said that?

I think we may have forgotten in these past four years
That have felt like a century.
He famously carried a token of Hanumān with him 
Where ever he went
And lifted the mountain of healing herbs on his Demi-Nubian shoulders 
And for eight years 
The fragrance of HOPE
Filled our nostrils.

It started as a whisper in Springfield Illinois
And now we are shouting in the streets again
And hope again seems audacious.

Because of social distancing 
And sheltering in place
The night sky is becoming visible again in India
The Himalayan Mountains are visible  in the distance
Even from cities whose air was once gray with pollution.
Wild animals are encroaching upon urban environments 

Are we the HOPE or the PROBLEM?

Is there a Goop product that cures stupidity?
And if there is, where would you rub it?
If I rub it on a Confederate Statue will it Melt away and disappear?

Is there a Goop repellant we could spray on the White House
To keep Trump away from it?
We could call that fragrance “Melania’s Hand Slap”Because it works for her.

Yudhiṣṭhira knew the truth:
If they ever open a gate for you
And invite you in saying:

“This is heaven;
But, you just can’t bring your dog.”

It’s a trap!
Be steady in war
Know that place to be hell
And walk on.

The God of Small Things would let you into heaven
Especially with your dog.

Will America have a breakdown 
Before it has a breakthrough?

Oh God of Small Things!
Convey me into a heaven where 
Even my family and my dog is welcome
Grant Us Wholeness.

(Photo Credit: Margaret Barthel/ DCist/ WAMU) (Video: YouTube)

In Nigeria, the urgency for comprehensive mental reorientation and systemic overhauling

These are not the best times for Nigeria and Nigerians. The state of anomie doesn’t give room for any form of joy or smiles as melancholy has gained a strong foothold nationwide. Nigeria perpetually maintains perennial rankings in the bottom quartile of global socio-economic and political developmental indices. Coming on the heels of two key reports that labeled Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world and one of the most miserable places on earth, it would not be out of place to say the country is on a tailspin. The hopelessness is so palpable and conspicuous that its strong whiff is everywhere. The most inexplicable thing that beats logic hollow is the open acknowledgement of helplessness, preponderance of fatalism, seemingly overt resignation to fate and tacit admission of defeat by both government and citizenry alike in the face of the myriad quagmires of variegated shades and sizes assailing the nation.

The despair of our time includes the actual threat of war, increasing polarization of wealth, rising incidence of kidnapping, banditry and armed robbery, ineffective electoral system, mounting youth restiveness and restlessness, resurgence of Boko Haram terrorists, marauding gangs of bandits and killer herdsmen, systemic failure of government at all tiers, emerging virulent strain of democracy, worsening human development indices, failing educational systems and standards, growing lack of confidence in the judiciary, restructuring and the escalating pace of insecurity nationwide.  Others include inadequate electricity supply, pipe borne water, social /health services, employment opportunities, road network etc. Despite the flaunting of socio-economic successes on all fronts by the present administration, a professor said the purported landmark achievements are invisible to a majority of Nigerians. Another observer lamented that poverty and despondency bestrides Nigeria’s terrain like a foreign invading and conquering army

Quite auspicious is the complete evisceration of the last vestiges of social solidarity, expanded concept of kinship and brotherhood that once embodied Nigeria’s humaneness. The torrents of depressing news and incidents all over the country give impetus to the growing perception that the nation has lost its soul. Already, a critical mass of Nigerians mostly youths have already written off Nigeria. Look at the high proportion of people who are hell bent on fleeing the country by either road or ship. Also check out the large number of people applying for visas at various embassies and departing MMIA on a daily basis. In 2017, an International Organization for Migration report said that the majority of the potential sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy by sea are Nigerian women.  

Is humane recovery ever possible on our benighted shores; are we desirous of change; are we ready to change?  What can be done to halt Nigeria’s present descent? What will pull Nigeria out of this disheartening nadir? Is there anything meaningful that the average Nigerian can do? Like in the game of thrones, the odds are clearly stacked against us as a people and as a nation.  The proclivity to rescue Nigeria from the jaws of the mythological kraken is dampened by our collective docility in the face of overwhelming difficulties at all phases, frightening psychological, physiological and rights abuses and atrocious existence in very onerous and heart-wrenching circumstances. What is happening is that Nigerians are clearly detached from reality by living a lie, exuding a false feeling of sanity and pretending that all is well in the face of overt dysfunction and chaos. The truth is that Nigeria is suffering from a terminal ailment and is on the verge of slipping into life support mode.  

The year 2020 represents an opportunity, a time for all of us to act fast to save Nigeria. Nigerians who love peace, equality and justice should comprehend the inevitability of embarking on a serious and comprehensive overhauling of our individual mindsets and all our systems and to organize against pernicious politicians, civil/public servants, corporate hawks, contractors and other people who have virtually held Nigeria by its jugular for decades. We should realize that only a united and organized mass of Nigerians across ethnic, religious, cultural and political divides can propel Nigeria to its desired and deserved heights. Nigerians must come together and start thinking of rising above primordial, ethnic, religious, mercantile and other sentiments in order to generate the required constructive social change that can turn this country around and create a fairer, more just, law abiding, open and more caring society.

(Photo Credit: AlJazeera / Reuters / Afolabi Sotunde)

No, the Response to Police Violence is not “Hire More Women”

Source: CNN

Listen. Please, CNN. 

The concept that to reform an institution that has a history of systemic racism, sexism, and classism is to add in more “diversity hires” is not the answer. 

The answer is to dismantle the institution. Not reform, not more trainings, not more money—and no, not hire more women. 

I have one name that can counter your argument that women de-escalate: Botham Jean. Well I have one name and an explosion in cases of police brutality where women have entered the police force to counter arguments that an increase to women’s participation would decrease police violence. 

Botham Jean was murdered by off-duty police officer Amber Guyger, after Guyger entered the wrong apartment and shot Jean in his own home. Where was the de-escalation? Where was the communication? There was none. 

To argue that the gender disparity within the police force contributes to the rise in police brutality (or, maybe a gender equal police force would lower instances of police violence), is not valid given the current climate on the excess in militarization of the police. Let’s also look into the essentialist notion that women are more socialized towards gentleness, compassion, and de-escalation with more gendered understandings of why women are not counted in police killings, reported in police violence statistics, or even reprimanded by the police force when excessive use of force is being reported. 

For every police force that has worked to close the gender gap for police officers, there are stories circulating around the country of excessive use of force, violence, and pepper spraying of protestors who are fighting to end the killings of Black people. 

In New York, videos have surfaced of police cars driving into protestors, pepper spraying people and arresting people who are working during curfew without a second thought after protests erupting in the wake of George Floyd’s death. 

In Chicago, hailed for the second largest inclusion rate of women in the force, police were photographed spraying pepper spray on protestors on State Street, were accused of beating and slamming protestors to the ground after police began use of excessive force on peaceful protestors. Accusations also arose of them targeting darker skinned protestor, Malcolm London, chasing him and beating him with batons before charging him with aggravated battery. 

Detroit police officers are among the deadliest in the United States, leading the nation in the rate of fatal shootings by police. That rate Is 2 ½ times higher than New York’s rate and 1 ½ times Los Angeles’. An officer in Detroit was suspended for brutalizing a journalist during a Black Lives Matter protest. 

These are only a few instances where correlation does not imply causation. Just because women are being hired into police forces, it does not mean that instances of force will decrease. Los Angeles has been notorious for instigating violence against anyone on the street during protests, most notably by hitting an unhoused man in the eye with a rubber bullet as a protest passed him. 

Source: 7 News

How could women be represented in such low statistics of police violence? Maybe it has to do with a combination of factors, including the gendered aspect of policing as well as survivors and victims being unwilling to come forward regarding their brutalization. Maybe it’s from the unwillingness of the department to investigate women police officers, because as the article ascertained, “Women generally tend to be socialized to talk rather than shout, negotiate rather than bully and empathize rather than order”. When we think that women are still gentle and all around harmless, the idea that they have hurt someone might not even warrant an investigation. 

And let us not forget, that “every person is different”. Women are not a monolith that are socialized to behave kindly and only with love; that is a form of liberal feminist jargon that argues the world can change if every part of public institutions is 50% women. White women all over this country have taken it upon themselves to police the very behavior of Black people and limit their access to the public safely. In that instance, they are not the empathetic, gentle ear that can de-escalate a situation (especially one that they started).

No, women did not invent de-escalation. 

Nor should the police, in all their forms and all their genders, be an operation for community care and healing. The everyday policing should not be, “About social services: domestic violence cases, dealing with people’s mental health problems, getting victims to open up, negotiating”. That is because police were never meant to be these things. They were never meant to help people with mental illness, they were never trained for social services, if they were even trained properly at all. The history of the police force, again, is a history of violent repression of Black people and laborers attempting to fight for better working conditions. They are the arms of the state to control the masses, to suppress any insurrection against the brutality of society. We have continued to fund and militarize police and then act surprised when they commit the acts that they have been sanctioned to use.

As liberals continue their call for reform, the liberal feminist mindset will be “We’ll be safe with women police.” The ultimate co-option will be reform that puts women in the police force at 50% and then call it a success even as police continue brutalizing protestors. 

Defunding the police is the aim; abolition is the goal. There should not be the closing of the gender gap of police because there should not be police to begin with. They are vestiges of an old world that just will not die. 

We need to reimagine who will be taking over social services because it should not be police; should not be policemen, should not be policewomen, should not be gay police, should not be straight police, should not be trans police, should not be police. Abolitionists have already imagined this world for us, and it is about time we listened

We do not need to reform the police: we need to abolish them. 

We regret to inform you there will NO credible investigation of the stillbirth at Styal prison

Styal prison

The prison service has launched an investigation following the death of a baby in prison … The stillbirth of a baby at Styal prison in Wilmslow, Cheshire, on Thursday has been confirmed by the Ministry of Justice. It is the second stillbirth of a baby born to a woman in prison in the space of nine months.” We regret to inform you that there will be no credible investigation of this incident at Styal prison, just as, despite the fact that eleven so-called investigations were conducted after last year’s stillbirth at HMP Bronzefield, nothing came of them. Investigations of ongoing atrocities that produce absolutely no change are not investigations. They are coverups. 

The story, such as it is, this time is that a young woman was held in HMP Styal. She did not know that she was pregnant. She did know that she was in excruciating pain. She did tell the staff, who told her to take two aspirins and chill out. The pains increased. Finally, someone realized that the woman was pregnant. By then, it was too late. Now, the Prison Service expresses their deep concern, and the headlines, which are far and few between, suggest that the impending investigation is the real story. In that case, there is no story, because there will be no credible investigation.

What exactly will the Prison Service investigate. Will they, once again, investigate the rash of suicides at HMP Styal between February 2018 to May 2019? Will they investigate, once again, the “epidemic” of women’s self-harm and suicide at HMP Styal between August 2002 and August 2003, the epidemic that prompted the Corston Report: a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system, published in 2007? Will they investigate the brutal conditions at HMP Styal, as documented in HM Chief Inspector of Prisons’ 2012 report? Will they investigate the Chief of Inspector of Prisons’ 2009 warning of the real and present danger of more deaths occurring at HMP Styal, if services for the vulnerable were not improved? How will the Prison Service investigate its own refusal to act for at least the past eighteen years? There will be numerous performances of investigation and concern, but there will be no credible investigation.

A chapter of the story is this: A woman was in real pain, and the staff meant to take care of her ignored her. The story is the active act of ignoring women to death. Here’s another chapter of the story: despite earlier promises, during the current pandemic, the English Prison Service has released only six pregnant women. In fact, HMP Prison Service has only released one in forty of women prisoners who applied for early release. The story is the active act of ignoring women to death. We regret to inform you that there will be NO credible investigation of the stillbirth at Styal prison. Rather than pretending yet again to investigate, shut Styal once and for all, and release the women who are held there. 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Don McPhee)

Jails, prisons, detention centers are still COVID death traps, where, despite promises, people in large numbers are left to die. Where is the global outrage?

Two months ago, prisons and jails made up seven of the ten largest COVID clusters in the United States. Hands were wrung, voices raised, promises made. Today … the situation remains the same, and not only in the United States. In the past six days, we’ve `learned’ that prisons in Turkeythe United KingdomMexico are scandals and worse. In the jails of Maharashtra, in western India, prisoners are tested for COVID … but only once they’re dead, and even then there’s no contact tracing. Across the United States, COVID carceral policy is referred to as a massacrepunishment by pandemic, a death sentence, and a death trap. Over the weekend, COVID cases in the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona `surged’ by 460%. This list is the smallest fraction of the so-called news over the past six days. As national trends more or less flatten, prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers rates zoom skyward. In response, prisons use solitary confinement more intensely and more oftenwhich only drives infection and self-harm rates higher and higherSome are saying it’s already too late. Women are at the center of this map of abandonment and deceit. Where are the women? Everywhere. Where is the global outrage? Nowhere to be seen.

According to a recent report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, in England, women prisoners’ rate of self-harm has risen precipitously since March. Women prisoners generally have higher rates of self-harm than male prisoners, largely because so many are living with trauma and mental illness, generally. This has been exacerbated by a new policy of 23-hour a day lockdown. Again, most of the women are in jail and prison for non-violent so-called offenses that would not have been considered criminal in earlier times. One woman, currently held at London’s HMP Downview, has petitioned the United Nations for help. Meanwhile, despite all the promises concerning prisoners living with underlying conditions, as of yet, a trickle has actually been allowed early release, fewer than 30 a week. Yet again, women are at the core of this policy of abandonment and abuse. Despite earlier promises, as of early this week, a sum total of six pregnant prisoners had been released. Twenty-nine pregnant women are still waiting to be released. Of 34 women in mother-and-baby units, 16 have been released. The English government spent £4,000 for electronic tags, to facilitate the release of prisoners. The money was delivered, the tags were delivered, the prisoners remain in solitary confinement in deathtrap prisons and jails. They call it compassionate release.

The same story is true in the United States. In North Carolina, pregnant prisoners were told they would be released. It hasn’t happened. The prisoners and their loved ones are losing hope, and so the system is working perfectly. Seven women currently housed at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women, KCIW, are suing for release. All of the women have serious underlying conditions; the rates of infection are rising precipitously; practically no one is being released. In Louisiana, the men’s prisons have somewhat dodged the COVID bullet … for now. But the women’s prisons, which are more dilapidated and more overcrowded, are recording infection rates between 60% and close to 90%. Nothing is being done to address the situation in Louisiana’s women’s prisons, less than nothing. Almost no one is getting `compassionate release’ and no one in charge has a plan, other than solitary confinement, to address the severe overcrowding. From sea to shining sea … 

Again, this is the news from only the past six days. Promise that you’ll release pregnant women, and then do nothing. Promise that you’ll take care of those with underlying conditions, and then do nothing. Or worse, institute universal solitary confinement protocols. The situation in prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers has been referred to as “the hidden scandal”, but it’s neither hidden nor, actually, scandalous. It’s the logical consequence of five decades of mass and hyper incarceration; of urban development through racist and misogynist violence under the name of policing; and of abandonment as the only real public and mental health system provided. Where is the global outrage at this situation? Nowhere to be seen. But hey, just remember, we’re all in this together.

(Photo Credit: KentuckyToday)

What do they learn (in school today)

What do they learn (in school today)

a hawker deliberate
she open-mouthed at the youths of today
unmasked undistanced
outside their local high

What do they learn
in school today
assembling now
up close and personal in our Covid-19 era

do teachers not teach about these new times
about this invisible enemy
along with the other
linking all pandemics in critical thought and analysis

(do they just stick
to the usual to the syllabus to what is dictated
not wanting to stir)

What do they learn
in school today
it being just a day
before June 16
a Public Holiday

are there doctors here
epidemiologists too
gathered boisterously
it being just a day before a Public Holiday

Remembering June 16 1976
of struggles past and present

South Africa’s Youth Day, June 16 2020

(Photo Credit: Simon Fraser University)

When Barbados says BLACK LIVES MATTER we must mean ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER.

We all know some things are too important to remain unsaid. And today what needs to be said centers around systemic Racism and anti-blackness and the way it manifests, not just in America but in Barbados too. 

Despite being a majority black country the claws of discipline and population control from the colonial era are still clenched tight around the necks of our civil society. How could they not be? The system of oppression that built America’s destructive racial tensions between the white and black community has a foundation in the Slave Code created here  to control the enslaved people in Barbados. 

Because of this horrific historic connection we cannot distance ourselves as if Racism is just an issue “das happen to dem ovuh dey”. The people gathered here know now is the time for us to pull the weeds out of our own back garden. It is the time when we must confront the atrocities of past AND present to build a better future. Now is the time when we must pry the stone cold fingers from around our own necks and the truth is, we know these fingers well: 

The myths of “Bajans real passive yuh” which results in us not only criticizing and stopping each other but our own imagination. We must remember that the docility of Bajans was directly orchestrated by European & British racial tropes. Do you understand the power that system still has over us if 300 years later this myth can still strip away our audacity? Our ability to imagine and ask for a new reality because “das just how iz always been”? Just because something has always BEEN does not mean that is how it should always BE.

Because police brutality is not a foreign issue. It happens here. Our anger and cries carry the names of victims in the US but also those who lost their dignity and life to the Police Force in Barbados. Names I do not know beyond I’Akobi who passed on June 17th 2008. I only know his name because of the hard work and dedication the Rastafarian community did to keep him remembered. We cannot leave each other out like that.  We cannot think “dat is a dem issue”. Today we marched for him and for the untold stories we know but cannot name.  A friend of mine I went to school with was brutalized for skateboarding at 16 in a bus terminal. 

They were black. But you already knew that because police brutality here does not regularly affect those who look like me. How many times have we seen young black people severely punished by our judicial system for a 5 bag, but crimes by the white elite go by with a slapped wrist and no due justice? And it is the responsibility of those who look like me to speak out against this double standard and the injustices our society accepts. Remember that silence is violence. 

Because racial segregation is not a foreign issue. The active removal of the white community from black Barbados is the worst kept secret here. We learn quickly who goes to what school. Who holds the majority of wealth in this country and if they do not want a statue to go down – it won’t. Even if the majority has said it is painful to look at. 

And it is the responsibility of the white Barbadian community to reject the exclusivity and combat the explicit bias and implicit violence at their family dinner parties, in their social circles at the Yatch Club, in Blue Box Cart, and in their company infrastructures too. 

As we marched today we took steps of resilience because to protest in Barbados means permission and request. The Public Order Act asks us if our pain is enough. Keeps us jumping through hoops to accommodate impossible stipulations for approval and if we dare deviate we can be shut down in seconds. It was created to stop black power protests in Barbados to appease the political and economical elite in 1937 because we WERE not passive then and we ARE not passive now. 

Today we are here for George Floyd, yes, and for Breonna Taylor and for all those who we have lost to an unjust system that does not value black lives over white profit. We march for them. We march for us. 

We march against the covert and overt racism Barbadians face. Against the police brutality we know. Against the anti-blackness in schools and businesses where, in 2020, how black hair naturally grows from the scalp, whether dreadlocked or bantu knots or twist outs can result in the denial of job opportunities.  

Against hotels and the business sector that prioritize white tourists over local investment. 

We march against the fallacy that Bajans don’t support each other as if we didn’t have Landship and the Meeting Turn, as if that isn’t our legacy?! 

But the battle to undo these colonial atrocities has not been fought for a day. As the fight continues it must be carried by warriors from every community that call this island home.  No action is too big nor too small as we protect the rights and humanity of the most marginalized identities in our communities. 

So, in the absence of our leaders saying it, let me say unequivocally, when we say black lives matter, we mean the lives of black people with dreadlocks matter. We mean the lives of those black people with mental health conditions matter. We mean black women’s lives matter, black trans lives matter, black men’s lives matter, black children’s lives matter, black queer lives matter, black muslim lives matter, black sex workers lives matter, black neurodiverse lives matter, black poor lives matter, black disabled lives matter. 

When Barbados says BLACK LIVES MATTER we must mean ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER. From past to future. So, Barbados, Azman say lewwe we step heavy because WE AIN PASSIVE. 

And, in a unified voice, lewwe tell dat claw of colonialism clenched around our necks – tek yuh hands offuh me! 

  • Luci Hammans, “Spoken from the skin I’m in”
  • June 13th, 2020
  • Black Lives Matter March and Rally in Barbados 

(Photo Credit: Luci Hammans / Facebook)

I have a question for those of you who continue to say “not all cops are bad”

I have a question for those of you who continue to say “not all cops are bad” or to share the heartwarming photos of a black man supposedly buying lunch at Cracker Barrel for 2 white cops, or to remind us that the important thing is to be kind to everyone (because, after all, we want to feel GOOD, don’t we?):

When you learned about the horrific abuses of children by pedophile priests, how widespread it was, how the church tried to cover it up and would move pedophile priests from one parish to another, did you say “Hey, not all priests are bad?” Did you tell the victims how they should feel or how they should formulate their ‘message?’ Did you put an “I Support My Local Priests” sign on your front yard? Did you share touching photos of a little boy hugging a “good” priest? Did you balk at the idea of removing the statute of limitations for the abuse? Did you disbelieve the victims’ stories? Did you tell them that somehow it was their fault? Did you remind everyone to be kind to each other and that priests were hurting too? Did you say “Well, we ask so much of priests, you know, with having to solve the community’s social problems and that whole celibacy… thing?” Did you say “How do we know the kid didn’t come on to him first?” “All s/he had to do was comply and it wouldn’t have ended so badly?” Did you watch the movie Spotlight and think “Well, they didn’t really tell the priests’ side of the story?” Did you think it was OKAY for a diocese to cover up the abuses and move a priest from one parish to another, only to abuse more children? If you learned that someone you knew was abused did you tell them “Well, all kids matter, not just you” 

I’m guessing the answer to these questions is no. And, if the answer is no, then you best do the important work of asking yourself why you think or say these things about #BlackLiveMatter and the response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the countless others at the hands of the police. Do the work. Love and kindness aren’t spread through platitudes, they’re spread through DOING THE WORK.

(Photo Credit: Mainichi / AP / Matt York)

So, You Want to Defund the Police? Start by Busting the Police Union

All around the world, people are waking up to the idea that the criminal justice system has been designed to brutalize and punish black and brown individuals—from videos of black men and women dying at the hands of police officers, to tear gas and other human right abuses being levied at protestors demanding solutions to police brutality—the system of police is not meant for the oppressed class. Defunding and demilitarizing them is only the first step for the realization of abolition; but how do we begin to understand the power behind the police? 

Short answer, it’s their union.

Long answer, it’s the power that the police unions over the years have been able to amass, even at the backing of major labor organizations (most disappointingly, being on part of the labor council by the AFL-CIO). The influence that they wield when making policy recommendations and funding politicians really should not be ignored. If we are looking toward defunding as the first steps in the goal of abolition, then the potential backlash from cop unions and their supporters should be researched, analyzed and dismantled before they can halt the movement towards defunding.

Already, we are seeing leaders of cop unions attempting to tamper down criticism by creating even more scandal for themselves and revealing the racism that is so deeply ingrained in the system of policing and the criminal justice system. The head of a Baltimore police union called Black Lives Matter protesters a “lynch mob”. In Philadelphia, another referred to demonstrators as “a pack of rabid animals”. A democratically elected black prosecutor in St. Louis is a “menace to society” who must be removed- “by force” if necessary, because she was in favor of police reform. And yet another union president, in NYC (where police have been absolute murderous with protesters), begged to not be treated, “like animals”. They’re attempting to put a stop to any reforms—no matter how small and miniscule—and they’re powerful enough to stop them. One single police union has spent more than $1 million on state and local races in 2014.

Police unions are the strongest and most powerful unions in the country. Their ability to negotiate contracts that give them almost full immunity when their members harm and kill someone is abhorrent, “Typically, such contracts are chock full of special protections that are negotiated behind closed doors. Employment contract provisions also insulate police from any meaningful accountability for their actions and rig any processes hearings in their favor; fired cops are able to appeal and win their jobs back, even after the most egregious offenses. When Daniel Pantaleo, an NYPD officer who was involved in the 2014 murder of Eric Garner, was finally fired, the police union immediately appealed for his reinstatement and threatened a work slowdown.” 

It is time for all labor organizations, no matter how small, to not only condemn the violence of the police force but actively work to dismantle an institution that’s history is stained with the blood of the working class and immigrants. As noted in Kim Kelly’s impassioned article, “No More Cop Unions”, the history of police violence has been against workers during strikes or at protests, “Despite their union membership, police have also been no friend to workers, especially during strikes or protests. Their purpose is to protect property, not people, and labor history is littered with accounts of police moonlighting as strikebreakers or charging in to harass or injure striking workers. The first recorded strike fatalities in U.S. history came at the hands of police, who shot two New York tailors dead as they tried to disperse. During the Battle of Blair Mountain, the police fought striking coal miners on the bosses’ behalf. In 1937, during the Little Steel Strike, Chicago police gunned down 10 striking steelworkers in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. In 1968, days after Dr. Martin Luther King addressed a group of sanitation workers, Memphis cops maced and assaulted the striking workers and their supporters, killing a 16-year-old boy.” The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumpka, a former president of United Mineworkers of America harshly criticized the police for engaging in violence against striking minors. 

The AFL-CIO is now facing calls to disaffiliate from its association with the International Union of Police Associates (representing over 100,000 law enforcement employees as well as emergency personnel) from 21 council members from the Writers Guild of America East, citing the policies and the actions of the police union as being consistent with, “authoritarianism, totalitarianism, terrorism and other forces that suppress individual liberties and freedoms.” The AFL-CIO has already disaffiliated from other unions in the past, including the Teamsters, SEIU, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The federation has already disaffiliated some powerful unions, so it has the potential to kick out an organization that has no business calling itself a union. 

This is but one step in demanding the end of police violence and terror; this is but one piece of an interlocking system that needs to be collapsed, but it will be a preemptive strike in the already powerful attempt to squash legitimate demands to doing away with police.

If you are a union member, or someone interested in demanding the end of AFL-CIO’s association with the International Union of Police Associations, please sign this petition from No Cop Unions. Please also encourage your union local to condemn the violence against protesters or issue a statement in support of Blacks Lives. Solidarity means solidarity with the workers and all oppressed members of society, not solidarity with the muscle of the state and the capitalists. 

Workers of the World Unite! We Have Nothing to Lose but Our Chains!

(Photo 1 Credit: ABC News) (Photo 2 Credit: The Guardian / Star Tribune)