What are you doing to empower Black women?

Before I begin I would like to have a moment of silence to acknowledge the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the  Manahoac, Nacotchtank, Piscataway and Patawomeck First Nations tribes on which we are standing, working, and learning in today.

Please bow your heads.
Thank you.

We are bystanders to Black and Native women being raped, killed, and tortured every day with no search parties in place. 

Black and Indigenous women are the most oppressed, and we must amplify our voices. 

In so many ways we are still enslaved in this country.     
I know it is hard to swallow, but it is true.
We are legally free but are our minds and body free? 
I mean truly free and protected? Are our children free to do the things that white children can do? 
The answer is NO!!!
We are still seen as disposable.
Our women are still being raped and murdered,
 Literally and figuratively.
Just like how my and many others great great great grandmothers were raped to provide more slaves for masters.

Black women are still being made to conform to white supremacy.
By burning our crowns, dimming our light and hiding our heritage every day.
We are still not seen as beautiful.
Black women are the core of the world and of our communities.
We nurture everyone but are never nurtured.

As Dr. Bettina Love said 
When Black women “lead movements we are so inclusive because we know what it means to be marginalized in so many places.”

In order to be empowered, we need everyone’s voice at the table. 

We will not be free until straight, queer, rich, poor, Muslim, Christian, and other women of color are free. 

As a Black bisexual student activist, I choose to spend a lot of my time and energy uplifting others and being inclusive in the work that I do.

Whether welcoming people of different backgrounds into a conversation or hyping up beautiful Black Queens on Instagram, I feel it is my duty to uplift and reassure Black women. And continue to shine the light on the amazing women around me who are doing great things.

The question is who else is doing this for Black Women?????

This is a constant need as 
Black women are still seen as objects.
We continue to suffer from self-hate.
Which leads us to  
Not be heard 
And to be at-risk 
And to repeatedly be silenced at every turn.
We continued to be killed, harassed and raped.

But then again it seems to me that the country was created to be this way.
and It seems to me that the country and world were created to treat our women this way.
But I guess that that is the white man’s best kept secret 

Although Black Women created this world as it is today, we cannot save it alone. We need white allies to recognize their role in contributing and dismantling racism.

Black Women
are expected to protect everyone but no one wants to protect us.
Black Women
are expected to be the most durable,and then are left to die in hospitals after birthing Black babies.
Black Women
are repeatedly denied our rights no matter our identity.


We Black women
Need to start protecting all of our sisters.
We Black Women
Need to remember we are not alone.
We Black Women 
Need to protect our young girls.
We Black Women
Need to stand up for ourselves.

Many of us already do that every day, and the sad thing is that we have to because no one else will. We are alone but we are alone together. We are everywhere and in everything. In every country and across every sea.

I just pray one day we will be seen because…

Black Women are the strongest. We’ve been forced to become strong and we will continue to stay strong to hold our people together wherever we are. Such as right here in Fairfax County where Black girls are being subjected to self-hate by the systems in place around them.

If you still can’t believe that there is self-hate and racism right here in our county let me tell you a short story about my friend who goes to Thomas Jefferson High School.  She explained at a school board meeting on Thursday (and I quote) “How am I supposed to cope with the fact that my decision to go to TJ will haunt me for the rest of my life” “I am still embarrassed to be Black, I have never had the confidence to wear my hair naturally this is the first time I have worn it natural in 5 years.” 

So my question is what are we doing to our girls right here in Fairfax county….what are we doing to uplift our Black girls?
AS A COMMUNITY we continue to tear down Black girls by expecting them to conform to white supremacist ideals.
AS A COMMUNITY we spread the infectious disease of self-hate to every type of Black woman everywhere.

And if Black woman overcome the self-hate and push through and speak up and have confidence
We are 
The “angry Black woman”
We are “too bossy”
We are “the oreo”
We are “not like the others”
Or better yet they are surprised at our eloquence and say
“Wow you are very articulate”
Or “You don’t talk Black”

This is all happening right here in the notorious “liberal” northern Virginia. This has happened to me.

After creating the first equity team in Fairfax County Public Schools whose goals are to amplify the voices of students and teachers of color, I was invited to join a panel with many girls of color in FCPS to share our experiences with teachers.

It’s alarming to hear the horrific stories of other youth advocates like me who suffer from their white peers and teachers harassing them. Whether it be a white teacher forcing a young Black girl to stand for the pledge of allegiance or boys in class laughing at a dark skin girl and calling her ugly. Right here in our county. 

As I talk to more students it is clear that black boys and girls are being targeted and harassed in the hallways and outside of school every day at every school. And I wonder if that would change if we didn’t just recruit teachers and principals from JMU but from HBCU’s.

Black children need representation in their schools. We deserve to be led and taught by people who look like us. Last fall I was blessed with the wonderful opportunity to join the campaign of Ricardy Anderson for School Board.  Dr. Anderson is an example of a Black female leader who is out here every day making a difference for our community. She taught me how to be heard and constantly takes the time to value student’s voices.

It was also during this time that I learned a lot about local politics in this so-called “liberal” county. 

Before quarantine, I was constantly surrounded by “liberal white people” who think that they are good people but really are racist. 
They still take the time to 
Be a feminist, but only for white women.
They take the time to
Touch their Black students hair every time she changes it.
They take the time to
Compliment a Black student when they do anything that they thought only white people could do, like speak proper English.
They take the time to sexualize Black girls and dress code them in the hallways.

How about, instead of taking the time to be racist and remind us of our exclusion, these people who claim to be “liberal white people” take the time to advocate for an antiracist curriculum.

How come they do not take the time to
Speak out against the disproportionate discipline against Black students.
They do not take the time to 
Speak out against their racist white peers and family members.
They do not take the time to 
Uplift Black and brown youth and adults.
They do not take the time to
Stop their students and families from saying the N-word.

So please do not say you care about our Black girls while standing by and watching them be torn down from Pre- Kindergarten to 12th grade and beyond.

Microaggressions and insults go unchecked every day in the halls of our schools. For me it started in elementary school when my classmates would put me down for being Black. And I was ignored by my teachers and administration when I told them that kids called me the “N” word in class, and they tried to silence me in middle school when I tried to organize a club to support Black students.  Like many of you, I learned early how Black people are seen in this country and what we are up against. 

The tearing down of Black girls is something that I and many other women such as Sandra Bland know all too well. Sandra Bland was an activist who spoke out against racism in her community before being brutally murdered.

Before she was murdered, Sandra Bland bravely used her voice to share her story and then died while still sharing her story.

You know someone else who shared their story?
Oluwa “Toyin” Salau. Toyin was a BLM activist who was murdered after bravely sharing her sexual assault story of being raped on social media.

Women like Kira Johnson and Stephine Snook Black and Native women who were both silenced and killed while giving birth.

And the beautiful Breonna Taylor who was shot at least 8 times in her own home.

As well as beautiful Trans Black women like Monika Diamond, Paris Cameron, Dominique Fells,and Riah Milton, Michelle Washington, just some of the Black trans people recently murdered in hate because of the misogynistic, racist, trans/homophobic society we live in. 

Right here in Fairfax County Natasha McKenna was brutally murdered on video by the Fairfax County Sheriff Department Police 5 years ago. 

These are all things that Black girls open their phones to see every day. We look like them. We are them. We know them. And It’s traumatizing.

What are you doing to empower Black women? What are you doing to protect the future of Black Children?

If you are in a position of power are you going out of your way to hire and promote Black women?


Are you listening to Black women and their perspectives? Or are you interrupting Black women and the progress that we are trying to make?


If you are a Black man, when was the last time you told a Black woman or girl that she is beautiful? If you are a black man, have you ever talked bad about dark skin women? Please take a step back and think about your voice and what you are using it for. 


If you are a human? Do you hear anti-black or anti-dark rhetoric? Do you call it out? If not, you need to 
CALL- IT -OUT – IF you are human support, fight and uplift Black Women.

If you are 18 or over 18… put your efforts into electing Black women like Delegate Carroll Foy. Not just for the sake of Black women but the future of this nation. I want young girls to grow up in a nation where they know that a seat at the table is reserved for them and they can envision themselves in it. 

If you are a Black girl or woman…
Are you doing self-care? When was the last time you stepped away and took care of yourself?
The world can wait for you, you are more important. 
We have important work to do and we need to be at our best to keep fighting!

Thank you all for listening to my truth! 

(Image Credit: AAPF)

In New Jersey, Incarcerated Pregnant Women’s Lives Don’t Matter

In New Jersey, a liberal government is grappling with its own sense of cruelty against incarcerated women. A suit filed in the US District Court for New Jersey claims that officers shackled the ankle of a 30-year-old woman identified as Jane Doe to her hospital bed while she was in labor. She was forced to wear the shackles even while she experienced painful contractions, kept her from turning on her side or moving at all to relieve the pain and—when nurses questioned the need for the shackles—officers refused to remove them and remained in the room even while doctors performed invasive medical procedures. She continued to be restrained while recovering from an emergency C-section and was also not allowed to walk the hallways as part of the healing process. 

The use of shackles during childbirth was banned in the state as far back as 2017. Yet, as Jane Doe was sent to jail on a probation violation in 2018 after relapsing, she was shackled during childbirth, and afterwards. 

The process of shackling, not only de-humanizing, takes a mental toll on women. In a 2017 report from the American Psychological Association, “Women subjected to restraint during childbirth report severe mental distress, depression, anguish, and trauma.” Women who are incarcerated tend to already have suffered more childhood traumas and shackling them during childbirth is likely to make conditions such as PTSD worse. 

New Jersey, in the wake of Christie, has worked to make progressive reform to address the growing number of women who are incarcerated, including the issues related to shackling pregnant women while receiving medical care, but these bills fall short on the issues that are created from the process of criminalization to begin with. Jane Doe would not have had to file a lawsuit to allege an illegal shackling had she not been arrested to begin with. She, along with many New Jersey women, are part of a vicious cycle of recidivism where they will constantly be in contact with the criminal justice system. 95 percent of people incarcerated in state prison will be released, but 76.6 percent of them will be rearrested within five years. And in New Jersey, it will cost more to keep these people in prison that it would to give them the help that they need, whether it be financial help, drug rehabilitation, mental health access, etc. (each person in incarceration costs the state $60,000 a year). 

Even the bills proposed by the state, while valiant in their efforts to address the crisis, only do so much as to alleviate the symptoms that are caused by incarceration. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle of Bergen County, proposed legislation to prohibit the use of restraints on pregnant incarcerated people during labor and immediately after childbirth, only in cases where the woman (who is in active labor, mind you), presents a substantial flight risk or some other “extraordinary medical or security circumstance dictates that restraints are needed to ensure the safety and security of the prisoner, the employees of the facility or medical facility, other prisoners, or the public”. Again, the extenuating circumstances are loopholes so that women, in active and painful labor, are still restrained during labor. I wonder at what point we’re going to acknowledge that women will not attempt to flee when they can barely stand. 

Other bills have attempted to show that same compassion to incarcerated women, the fastest growing population in the criminal justice system, while reminding those women that they still are prisoners and are only given crumbs at the benevolence of the state at large. 

The Dignity for Incarcerated Primary Caretaker Parents Act, would ensure all incarcerated women in New Jersey receive free feminine hygiene products, expressly ban shackling and eliminate solitary confinement for expectant mothers. The bill would expand visiting hours and free phone calls for incarcerated mothers and would create a pilot program allowing overnight visits for mother who are able to meet certain requirements so that they can bond with their newborns.

While we should applause some compassion for incarcerated women, and incarcerated mothers, we need to keep fighting for a day where we meet a pregnant woman who has relapsed with compassion and public health solutions and not arrest or jail. 

The Black Lives Matter Movement has brought to the surface a longstanding dehumanization of people at the hands of the criminal justice system; those officers didn’t care that Jane Doe was in active labor or recovering from a C-section. To the police, Jane Doe was another inmate that deserved to be handcuffed because she was outside of the prison walls, just like any other officer would do to an “inmate”. 

Defunding the police means defunding the prisons means abolishing the prisons that house these women. $60,000 per incarcerated persons can correspond trauma informed therapists and love and safety. 

Can we reimagine what $60,000 per incarcerated individual in the state of New Jersey (there are 39,000 people in various correctional facilities in the state alone)? Can we think about the various ways we can help those people instead of locking them up and subjecting them to a life of imprisonment and dehumanization? Can we literally comprehend how much help $2,340,000,000 (more than $2 billion!) can buy us? Can we imagine a day where there will be no more Jane Does? Where the lives of incarcerated pregnant women matter? 

(Image Credit 1: The Guardian / Molly Crabapple) (Photo Credit: Facebook / Stop Shackling Pregnant Women) (Image Credit 2: Prison Policy Initiative)

Social Media and Social Movements: On the sixth anniversary of #BlackLivesMatter

July 13th, the Black Lives Matter Movement celebrates its sixth anniversary, marking six years since the viral hashtag ignited a global movement. In 2020, social media users surpassed 3.8 billion, making social media essential in the survival of social movements such as Black Lives Matter. With social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, any user can be a political activist. How essential is social media to social movements, and how do we address the toxicity in social media? 

Social media movements, such as Me Too and the Black Lives Matter, have sparked wildfires throughout social media. The viral hashtags have drawn global attention to immigration, racial, economic, and gender issues, drawing more than a million daily Tweets, posts, and shares globally. In 2006, activist Tarana Burke founded the Me Too campaign to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls, and other young women of color from low-income communities. The Me Too Movement sparked a global conversation on sexual harassment in the workplace. A 2018 study by the Pew Research Center found #MeToo was used more than 19 million times on Twitter since actress Alyssa Milano’s initial tweet in 2017.

In 2013 Black Lives Matter was started by activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. It has since transformed into a global organization. The Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc. is active in the US, UK, and Canada, with the mission to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities.

In response to the death of George Floyd in police custody in late May 2020, the use of the Black Lives Matter hashtag peaked three days after the death of George Floyd. On that day alone, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, #BlackLivesMatter was tweeted 8.8 million times. In the following two weeks after Floyd’s death, users tweeted #BlackLivesMatter an average of nearly 3.7 million times per day. The New York Times reported that the Black Lives Matter Movement may be the largest in U.S history. According to a recent poll by Civis Analytics, about 15 million to 26 million people in the U.S. have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and others in recent weeks.

At the same time, social media is also an essential tool to expose the “Karen’s”. The use of social media platforms has created a constant state of surveillance, in which constant surveillance has grown beyond the parameters of fun, harmless videos into a form of social policing. Exposing CEOs, business owners, and schoolteachers for public outbursts has created viral villains. More often than not, these outbursts caught on camera lead to job termination, threats of violence, and public outcry. In July of 2020, lawmakers introduced legislation such as the CAREN Act, an acronym for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies, which was introduced in San Francisco. The CAREN Act criminalizes individuals who call law enforcement based on racial bias. Social media acts as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it effortlessly and instantaneously carries dialogue across various social boundaries. On the other, social media acts as judge, jury, and executioner.

Companies that operate and manage Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have also exposed toxicity within the use and operational aspects of social media platforms. The use of social media allows for the uncensored spread of misinformation. With an estimated 3.8 billion social media users across a wide range of platforms, hate speech and targeted violence often go unregulated and uncensored. Consider QAnon. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have seen a significant increase in QAnon content, which spreads medical misinformation, raising public health concerns. This increased visibility in misinformation has created a problem in the regulation of content on social media platforms. More than 500 advertisers are boycotting Facebook for failure to control these divisive and hateful content, pulling into question the policies and ethical practices of social media platforms.

In July 2020, complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Facebook allege patterns of racial bias against Black employees in evaluations, promotions, pay, and hiring practices. A recent report shows, eighty-seven percent of Facebook’s workers are either Asian or white, while Black workers make up just 3.8 percent.   

Social media have transformed the mobilization and solidarity for social movements. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, is no longer used to share the mundane daily activities of life. Platforms have been transformed into ground zero for the largest social movements this U.S has ever seen. The wide use and dependence on social media for mobilization furthers the exploitation and perpetuation of social inequities the movement is striving to eradicate.

(Photo Credit 1: Black Lives Matter) (Photo Credit 2: Houston Chronicle / Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Why do we continue to leave pregnant women in deathtrap jails, prisons, detention centers?

Tammy Jackson

At the beginning of March, we asked if Florida would finally stop shackling women prisoners in childbirth. At the end of June, Florida’s Governor signed the Tammy Jackson Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act. Last year, Tammy Jackson gave birth, alone, in a cell in the North Broward Jail, in Pompano Beach. The new law bans shackling pregnant women prisoners; invasive body cavity searches; and the use of solitary confinement; and requires medical examinations at least once every 24 hours. While this is welcome news, it begs wthe question why it took Florida so long to address the ongoing violence against women in its prisons and jails. Why? Why are pregnant women shackled while pregnant, in childbirth, and after delivery? Why? Across the United States, women, alone in their cells, give birth to children. They are alone because … because they are incarcerated. That justifies all acts of violence and violation, especially against women. Remember, Andrea Circle Bear, the first woman to die of Covid 19 in federal prison, was pregnant when she was sent to prison. Remember, Andrea Circle Bear should never have been incarcerated in the first place, and should never have remained incarcerated. Why is it so hard to release pregnant women from clear and imminent danger?

Every month, the reports come out, and every month, for the past few months, prisons and jails have been the epicenters of Covid infection and mortality. Has that mattered to prison authorities or the public at large? No. Have pregnant women, the most vulnerable sector of the the incarcerated population, been released? No.  In North Carolina, pregnant prisoners were told they would be released. It hasn’t happenedThe women worry and organize, their families worry and organize, and meanwhile … What? 

This week, faced with a monster outbreak of coronavirus in its prison system, and in particular in San Quentin, California is beginning to consider releasing prisoners. Included in that process is the following: “The department also said it is `reviewing potential release protocols’ for those who are pregnant or in hospice.” Why only now are those processes being reviewed? Why is it so very difficult to understand that pregnant women, and those in hospice care, are at particular risk? What is it about a prison uniform that fatally hides one’s humanity? Meanwhile, part of California’s `process’ of reducing prison overcrowding is to keep people in jails. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? Equally nightmarish stories of the abuse of pregnant women in immigrant detention centers continue to pile up as well.

This is the age of mistreatment and abuse of pregnant women. Pregnant women prisoners are the tip not so much of an iceberg as of a continent-wide subterranean volcano. Why are pregnant women being warehoused in jail cells where the staff ignores and `forgets’ them? Why are pregnant women being stuffed into prisons and immigrant detention centers, where they are only meant to suffer and die? If not, we would release them. Period. Meanwhile, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill that would provide medical care for women before and after childbirth, in both prisons and jails. At the same time, “the legislature struck down proposed bans on shackling and solitary confinement for pregnant women this year.” The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: New York Times)

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)