Eleanor Bumpurs and Breonna Taylor, together, haunt the United States. #SayHerName

Eleanor Bumpurs

This week, with evictions and even more the threat of evictions rising across the United States; with police violence spreading and intensifying, especially in communities of color; with police home invasions, as happened to Breonna Taylor, spreading with impunity; with a national election; we must discuss Eleanor Bumpurs. On November 4, 1984, Eleanor Bumpurs was laid to rest. Soon after Eleanor Bumper’s death, her daughter, Mary Bumpurs, would begin a lifetime of Black feminist social justice organizing in her mother’s name. In 1989, Spike Lee dedicated his film Do The Right Thing to six victims, six martyrs, of police brutality and racist violence: Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Griffith, Arthur Miller, Jr., Edmund Perry, Yvonne Smallwood, and Michael Stewart. Two weeks ago, on Saturday, October 17, the families of Eleanor Bumpurs and of Breonna Taylor joined together to lead a State of Emergency Get Out The Vote Rally in New York. At that rally, Eleanor Bumpurs’ granddaughter, also named Eleanor, asked, “When does it stop? When we do become somebody that somebody thinks about?” Eleanor Bumpurs.  Breonna Taylor. #SayHerName

Eleanor Bumpurs came to national attention on October 29, 1984. Here’s how Patricia Williams told the story, in 1987: “On October 29, 1984, Eleanor Bumpurs, a 270-pound, arthritic, sixty-seven-year old woman, was shot to death while resisting eviction from her apartment in the Bronx. She was $98.85, or one month, behind in her rent.’ New York City Mayor Ed Koch and Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward described the struggle preceding her demise as involving two officers with plastic shields, one officer with a restraining hook, another officer with a shotgun, and at least one supervising officer. All of the officers also carried service revolvers. According to Commissioner Ward, during the course of the attempted eviction Mrs. Bumpurs escaped from the restraining hook twice and wielded a knife that Commissioner Ward says was “bent” on one of the plastic shields. At some point, Officer Stephen Sullivan, the officer positioned farthest away from her, aimed and fired his shotgun. It is alleged that the blast removed half of her hand, so that, according to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, `[I]t was anatomically impossible for her to hold the knife.’ The officer pumped his gun and shot again, making his mark completely the second time around.” Sullivan was later charged with manslaughter. The court dismissed the case, finding the evidence “legally insufficient”. After the ruling, Sullivan described himself as “ecstatic”. When asked if, given the same circumstances and hindsight, would he do the same thing, Sullivan answered, “Yes, I would.” Yes, he would. So would his descendants. Ask the family and friends of Breonna Taylor.

Eleanor Bumpurs led a full life, full of laughter, sorrow, insight and more. Eleanor Bumpurs’ daughter, Mary Bumpurs, knew that and refused to let her mother be reduced to a victim of police violence. She sued the City and won, but more importantly, she went on to organize, for decades, in the name of the Disappeared of the United States: Black mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends, strangers become kin. As LeShawn Harris recently noted, “When her mother died, a community activist was born.”

In 1986, Audre Lorde wrote “For the Record: In memory of Eleanor Bumpers

“For the Record 
In memory of Eleanor Bumpers

Call out the colored girls
and the ones who call themselves Black
and the ones who hate the word nigger
and the ones who are very pale

Who will count the big fleshy women
the grandmother weighing 22 stone
with the rusty braids
and gap-toothed scowl
who wasn’t afraid of Armageddon
the first shotgun blast tore her right arm off
the one with the butcher knife
the second blew out her heart
through the back of her chest
and I am going to keep writing it down
how they carried her body out of the house
dress torn up around her waist
uncovered
past tenants and the neighborhood children
a mountain of Black Woman
and I am going to keep telling this
if it kills me
and it might in ways I am
learning

The next day Indira Gandhi
was shot down in her garden
and I wonder what these two 67-year old
colored girls
are saying to each other now
planning their return
and they weren’t even
sisters.”

When, in 2020, the family of Breonna Taylor joins with the family of Eleanor Bumpurs and declares that justice shall prevail, shall persist, through the current state of emergency, Eleanor Bumpurs and Breonna Taylor are busy planning their return … and they were sisters. Eleanor Bumpurs. #SayHerName #BreonnaTaylor #SayHerName

(Photo credit: Souls)

Self-care isn’t enough!

Take a nap, do a face mask, order a lot of food on UberEats – all elements of the self-care prescription you can find anywhere on the Internet. The meaning of self-care is evident in its name, but the repercussions of its incorrect use are deeper seated than many of us realize. 

Twitter (and other social media platforms) have normalized discussions of mental health and self-care. Twitter is a breeding ground for information and online community, which I have felt and been moved by many times. I am inspired by the way online communities can make a home for those who may have none. The baby-boomer era despises technology and social media as a destructive force – it kills our everyday social interaction, makes us “obsessed” with our phones. Social media’s impact on the younger generations of those who use it is quite the contrary – it has taught us how to build community, how to organize, and how to support one another. It creates a shared feeling of connection between distant strangers and can even save lives. Twitter is a fun way to pass the time when procrastinating, but its ramifications on concepts of community are powerful. 

The community Twitter has created is not exempt from the deeply embedded neoliberal individualism that the world suffers from today. Even within online communities, “self-care” has transformed into many things and almost none of them are what it should be. You’re a narcissist, you’re problematic, or you’re asking others to perform too much “emotional labor” for you. Self-care is purported to look easy when in reality it should be hard, as it requires the inner dismantling of the oppressive structure of individualism that permeates all aspects of life. Self-care should create community, not isolate those who may be struggling. Self-care can be interpreted in so many different ways that we have lost touch with what it should really look like, and thereby have negatively impacted the community we have worked so hard to create.

What does it mean to perform emotional labor? Twitter may tell you that a friend asking to talk about their hardships requires monetary compensation. Or, Twitter may tell you that setting appropriate boundaries between yourself and others is okay, even encouraged, within the self-care movement. The (mis)use of self-care has led us to unknowingly devalue our own community that Twitter has created. It is exactly through the Internet community that neoliberalism has penetrated, harming the way we view ourselves and others. Self-care and community are intertwined, but the transformation of both their meanings results in a cognitive dissonance that many, including myself, struggle to reconcile. 

Self-care is not enough. Even in its purest form, it is accompanied by radical, shared care and trust in one another. We are only as strong together as we are apart. True self care is not selfish, nor is it simple, nor is it individualized. It is a radical feminist practice, allowing us to strengthen ourselves and thereby the movement. As Audre Lorde so eloquently stated, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

(Image Credit: The Mindfulness Journal)

Racism has produced the Mediterranean `refugee crisis”

Today, thousands of people escaping violence are killed or die because of the color of their skin, their origins, and because there are too many of “them” to fit into the neoliberal order of exploitation and competition. At the same time, the disequilibrium of the climate originated in the global North and has had a devastating impact on the global South.

The European Union had no qualms when it defunded and thus forced the Mare Nostrum Italian program to be abandoned and then moved to the Frontex program, based on nationalist (here European) security and militarization. Mare Nostrum saved 150 000 people, while Frontex, not designed to save people, has already killed thousands with more deaths to come.

This move seemed innocuous from the United States where the militarization of civil society has already been normalized.

After the events of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, went on air to establish that, thanks to the police and the military, the city was back in order, adding that Baltimore was resilient. Resilience rhymes with silence, and, as Audre Lorde taught, “silence and invisibility go hand in hand with powerlessness”.

The indifference to the ordeal of millions in the Global South is a racial issue that is used to promote and allow an absurd, but for a few profitable, bio-economic order that needs racism to impose so-called free trade markets and their dehumanization through militaristic means. Organizations as respected as Amnesty International or Medecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors without Borders), whose President once opposed the Western military actions in Libya, present in their latest reports evidence of this racist indifference and its consequences for real human beings. Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, continues to defend his government’s decision to involve France in the bombing of Libya. At least, another French president refused to participate to the destruction of Iraq but that was then.

Amnesty interviewed refugees to document the reality of the very long journey to the Mediterranean Sea shores. Libya is often the destination. People risk abduction and extortion by smugglers and police. Women face the additional risk of sexual violence, and all in the context of growing racial and religious intolerance. The next goal is to escape Libya where the rights of allegiance to local powers prevail over human rights. With the complicity of many, the smugglers have developed a new crude business in this zone of no rights.

The smugglers are merely taking advantage of a situation that has it source somewhere else. As Loris De Filipi, MSF President explained, “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible.” Both Amnesty and MSF are demanding a change of European policies.

The European Commission has proposed to create a quota system to distribute the migrant population among European countries according to their size and economy, “share the burden.” Thus far, only six countries out of the twenty-eight countries have agreed to participate to this program. British Home Secretary Theresa May has rejected participating in any EU migrant resettlement proposal. Her conservative counterparts in the EU have agreed with her. Instead, they have offered a military intervention to destroy the smuggling business in Libya.

The formula of “nothing for refugees and everything for the military” comes from a radically racialized world vision. The “refugee crisis” is is not a question of choice or opportunity, to use neoliberal language. People just want to escape the impossibility of life.

With about 19 000 km of walls built in the world, the message is violent and the violence it creates. We should instead look at opening the borders and learn about the racialization of humanity. Only by freeing the movement of people can the world start a desegregation process that is necessary if we want to survive. Every serious geographer agrees people thrive when they can move and not be fixed in place.

We have been told the markets should be free because they can regulate themselves. It’s not so. Having no real existence, markets, can never be free. Only the people can regulate, and only the people can know freedom.

 

(Photo Credit: MSF / Ikram N’gadi)

Boys will be boys, and girls will be jailed

Girls are entering into the juvenile `justice’ system at an alarmingly increasing rate. One reason is that girls are arrested more often than boys for status offenses and are more severely punished for those offenses. The thing is those `offenses’ are not crimes. That’s what makes them `status’ offenses. If the girls were older, there would be no offense, no crime.

But they are girls, and they must be protected from themselves. This is the vicious cycle that has been constructed in exactly the same period that has witnessed girl power on the rise: “In a 2010 national census of youth in custody, girls comprised 16% of all detained youth but 40% of those were detained for a status offense. At one time and in some states, girls comprised more than 70% of youth detained for status offenses.” This is the United States’ program of no girl left behind. This is girls’ educational program in the United States.

Why are girls so lucky, when it comes to prison? One answer is paternalism, which expresses itself as a need to protect girls from themselves and the world; a curious comfort with “with using locked confinement to access services for girls with significant needs”; and intolerance towards “girls who are non-cooperative and non-compliant.” Boys will be boys, and girls will be jailed.

At the same time, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are twice as likely as other youngsters to be detained in a juvenile detention facility for status offenses.” Why? LGBTQ youth often run away from home or, more precisely, from family rejection. According to one report, 40 percent of homeless youth self-identify as LGBTQ. Living on the streets means engaging in “survival crimes”, like theft. But it also involves an expanding and intensifying universe of so-called status offenses. Once again, LGBTQ youth are jailed to protect them from themselves.

This program for LGBTQ kids is the United States national education program. In schools LGBTQ children suffer harsher punishment, both formal and informal, for truancy, absenteeism, and dress code violations. A vicious school-to-prison pipeline drives the “non-cooperative and non-compliant” further and further into the ground … or else.

Today, the Treatment Advocacy Center released The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey. Here are the numbers: “In 2012, there were estimated to be 356,268 inmates with severe mental illness in prisons and jails. There were also approximately 35,000 patients with severe mental illness in state psychiatric hospitals. Thus, the number of mentally ill persons in prisons and jails was 10 times the number remaining in state hospitals.” Since 2008, the situation has worsened.

From girls to LGBTQ youth to those living with severe mental illness, the crime committed is that of living, of being alive. And what of those at the crossroads of this nightmare, what of young lesbians who are living with severe mental illness? They are marked as non-cooperative and non-compliant, many times over. They were never meant to survive.

 

(Photo Credit: https://youngfolksrevolution.wordpress.com)

Feminism and Love: Borders Shift

“Each one of us here is a link”
Audre Lorde

Filled with love, our greatest tool is the ability to look across the border, acknowledging its existence, and into the eyes of another person. I ask you to teach me what the border means for you; I will teach you what the border means for me, and we will, together, recognize how we are linked across and beyond it. In that moment, the border begins to shift.

This is love; more than sympathy, more than compassion, more than solidarity, this is responsibility to another individual. This is the “slow, attentive mind-changing (on both sides), ethical singularity that deserves the name love,” a commitment to see, understand, and change the world—and ourselves— together.

To be a feminist is to be attentive. To be a feminist is to change one’s mind. To be a feminist is to be responsible to one another, to listen and to question, to learn and to teach, to criticize and to celebrate. To be a feminist is to refuse the comfort of our own borders and to struggle together to make the borders shift.

Such responsibility can be painful, exhausting, and can seem hopeless. Manissa McCleave Maharawal from Occupy Wall Street writes, in response to the first draft of the Declaration of Occupation:

“Let me tell you what it feels like to stand in front of a white man and explain privilege to him. It hurts. It makes you tired. Sometimes it makes you want to cry. Sometimes it is exhilarating. Every single time it is hard. Every single time I get angry that I have to do this, that this is my job, that this shouldn’t be my job. Every single time I am proud of myself that I’ve been able to say these things because I used to not be able to and because some days I just don’t want to.”

We, too, are called to talk about privilege, starting with our own. We are called to argue and to question, even when it hurts. And we are called to love so fiercely that we keep trying.

“No matter how hopeless that undertaking might seem,” and no matter how exhausting it can be to pry open a tiny crack in the border with your fingers, this is what love asks of us. When we love, we notice even the smallest of blessings, every shift in which “words…blades of grass” can push through.

To challenge the borders through love is to recognize that no matter how small the shift, it is seminal; no matter how hopeless or painful a moment, there is the possibility for transcendence.

 

(Image Credit: Huffington Post)

Feminism and Love: We Live in a World of Borders

As we share our stories, we learn that the platitudes of the universal may mollify us, but cannot truly unite us. We live—and love—as individuals in a world of borders. We do not look for words; we look for one another and, all too often, instead of finding one another, we find the borders of geography, history, and language, of our genders, races, classes, ages, and abilities.

These borders break our hearts. This heartbreak stems not only from distance of geography and difference in language, but the militarization of that distance through histories of oppression and discourses of misrepresentation. It sits lodged in our chests in times of strife and times of change, when we are held back from marching together, from talking and working and loving together.

However, even in hopelessness, we choose how to respond to that heartbreak. We can deny the realities of our borders and our actions to proclaim, as in the first draft of Occupy Wall Street’s Declaration of Occupation, that we are “one race, the human race, formally divided by race, class…,” that, in the words of Manissa McCleave Maharawal, “all power relations and decades of history of oppression” have not left a mark. But we are scarred by oppression and defined by our survival, and we have constructed our own stories of pride and love within the borders that we have come to call our homes.

The pain we have felt in our bordered lives, the despair we have known in our separation from one other and from ourselves, and the distance we have come to expect when approaching people from whatever we construct as the other side, have created anger in us, anger that cannot be forgiven for an empty universality. But we have survived within those borders; we have lived in them, grown in them, loved in them and past them.

In understanding the borderlands as living places, we defy the assumption of their immutability. We challenge both claims of all-encompassing universality and fears of irrevocable difference, for we know that life inside our borders is not universal and it is not enough. Thus, we “learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny and to flourish within it,” to commit ourselves to liberation and to love.