No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!

Last Friday, during a National Public Radio show’s Friday News Roundup of domestic news, four panelists briefly discussed the Day Without Immigrants actions that had taken place across the country the day before. One prominent conservative correspondent noted, “There seemed to be a little conceptual confusion over immigrants and illegal immigrants.” There was no conceptual confusion among those who protested and their supporters. They chanted, “No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!” Not “legal”, not “illegal”. Immigrants. Immigrants, children of immigrants, grandchildren of immigrants have seen how ICE agents act. They know the raids are indiscriminate, and they know the actions, and many of the actors, are compelled by a xenophobia that is informed by white supremacist racism, the intersectional form of terror of the current regime.

The Muslim Ban, the anti-immigrant raids and sweeps, the language of intimidation and threat were never about the niceties of documentation. Muslims, including non-Muslims perceived to be Muslims, saw that, at certain airports, the ban meant anyone with “a certain name or look” was subject to particularly invasive and insulting attention. In every sense, those actions were unwarranted.

Over the last week, raids have targeted people at residences, churches, homeless shelters, and courts. In El Paso, a woman filing for a protective order from an abusive partner was picked up. In Alexandria, Virginia, two men leaving a homeless shelter were taken. Across the country, people without criminal records were taken away. ICE’s response? The reports are “false, dangerous and irresponsible” and those “falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.” Those “false reporters” include U.S. Senators and Representatives, Governors, members of the clergy, attorneys, eyewitnesses, family members, neighbors, passersby, cameras, and the list goes on. In Virginia, where I live, Governor McAuliffe, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner have written letters to Homeland Security and still await a response.

This past weekend, new directives “dramatically expand the scope of enforcement operations”.  These “sweeping new guidelines … empower federal authorities to more aggressively detain and deport … inside the United States and at the border.” In the places where people of color live, dramatic expansion and more aggressive detention add up to a reign of terror. That terror threatens everyone. It threatens the undocumented, as it threatens tech workers, seasonal workers, students and others protected by a visa.

Immigrant of color communities know that, when it comes to people of color, those in charge don’t distinguish among the undocumented immigrant, documented immigrant, and citizen. Their response has been clear: “No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!” There is neither conceptual nor ethical nor existential confusion here: No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / Revolución Real Ya)

Is the disappearance of solidarity our most imminent threat?

Notre-Dame Basilica

Notre-Dame Basilica

On the morning of November 9, 2016, many NWSA members packed their bags and went to Montreal to attend the National Women Studies Association conference. I was one of them. Our families and friends joked, “Please come back,” because for several weeks, Americans who feared a Trump presidency swore they would leave the country if the unthinkable happened. The unthinkable did happen. And I, along with my fellow members, had to somehow get our dispirited selves together and make the trip.

Arriving in Montreal felt like a breath of fresh air: we were greeted by narrow streets, ivy covered brick walls, flowers on the balconies, the sound of French, French cuisine, Chinatown, Notre Dame. The conference focused on the theme of decolonizing, the tensions facing indigenous communities, transnational views of political issues, and so on.

On Saturday, my friends from the South Asian caucus and an African-American professor went for lunch in the old town and walked up to Notre Dame. A woman who was at the entrance said the church was closed; it had closed just 5 minutes back. We asked if we could just step in for a few minutes since we were leaving back to the U.S. the next day. She said in a hostile tone that the church was closed and would open for Mass at 5 pm. So we spent some time taking pictures and went to the gift shop adjoining the church. The woman there said she would be closing in 10 minutes. She repeated this a few times. I said, “We heard,” and she said, “in case you are caught off guard.” I was surprised at her choice of words. One of my friends bought a tiny statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and we left feeling we were not welcome.

My friend Fawzia, a fan of Leonard Cohen, wanted to stay for Mass where a tribute was being paid to him. The rest of us left back to the hotel. Later that evening, a traumatized Fawzia called us and we ran to meet her in the conference center. She was visibly shaken. She said that after we had left, she had hung around the steps of the cathedral for a while and went up to the guard who asked her to come back in 15 minutes, and that the Mass will be in French. So Fawzia stopped at a store across the church and bought something and went back after a few minutes. The guard again intoned that the Mass will be in French. At this point, a stream of people were entering the church. When Fawzia joined the line, the guard stopped her and said “Not you. The Mass is in French.” At this point Fawzia spoke to her in French that she was planning to stay for the Mass and why was she letting the white people enter but not her. Another guard then joined her and came close to her with his hand up and told her to go away. Fawzia immediately said she would not and why were they being racist. A third woman joined the guards and blocked Fawzia’s way. The first guard said she found her aggressive and the second guard threatened to call the police. At this point Fawzia said they could call the police if they wanted. She took out her camera and began taking their pictures. The first guard quickly shielded her face. The other two continued to block the entrance. People who witnessed the scene passed by even though Fawzia said loudly to them that she was not being allowed into the church and only white people were being let in.

She took a cab and burst into tears and told the cab driver what happened and wondered if this was what Montreal was like. The cab driver said he was sorry she had this experience.

Our collective illusion that Canada was somehow going to be a reprieve from our fear of the beginning of the nightmare that had unfolded in the U.S. was just that—an illusion. The reality, as our Canadian feminist friends reminded us, was the history of white supremacy in Canada and the U.S. alike. Canada was also fighting the fracking war; immigrants who were people of color have had a rough history there; indigenous populations continue to face a wall that Fawzia and her friends were up against. The wall is that of white hegemony; the Anglo-French war of old resurfaces from time to time in Montreal and immigrants get caught in its midst.

The hands that pushed her away are the hands that push away migrants heading into European countries, the hands that push away the disenfranchised, the impoverished, the asylum seekers, the refugees. It is important to recognize the wave of fascism that we are currently seeing in the U.S. –with the Trump Presidency being heavily endorsed by the KKK and neo Nazi and white supremacist groups—is now giving the nod to right wing forces in France, Belgium, Germany, and Hungary. Turkey has already noted the progress of demagoguery in the U.S. and is engaged in a wave of arrests of journalists and intellectuals. Putin is happy that he has an ally. The makers of Brexit also have in Trump an ally so the unwanted minorities can be deported or eliminated. Transnationally, racism and xenophobia are ruling out inclusion and democratic processes.

The following morning, at 7:30, a few members of NWSA and the local South Asian women’s group held a protest outside Notre Dame. The held a pink sari as a banner on which they had pinned the sign of the South Asian Women’s Community Center and signs that read “Love Not Hate,” while one of the members took pictures and a video to be sent to media outlets. Fortunately, the protest ended peacefully. There was no police presence or arrests.

Those of us from abroad may want to ponder what it means to protest in a foreign country; what it means for a conference whose headquarters is in a foreign country to show its support to its members who have encountered racism at the hands of locals; what would be the result if police did indeed arrest protesters on the basis that they are foreign and are disturbing the peace, just as it is currently happening in Turkey and is now looming as a threat in Arizona toward undocumented immigrants who are protesting; why none of the bystanders and the people entering the church intervened, and if the disappearance of solidarity is our most imminent threat; the hegemony of the U.S. over Canada that distorts the picture of racism against a U.S. citizen of color, which has played out all over the world against men and women of color in contested sites in the Middle East.

 

(Photo Credit: Montreal Gazette / Marie France Coallier)

The shaming of Black Women’s bodies cannot continue to be a casual matter

Pretoria Girls High. A disgraceful bastion of White privilege and ongoing violence against the Black psyche. It joins University of Free State, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch, Wits and so many other historically White institutions that remind us and now our children that we are visitors to our own country and extras in the imperial imagination. As a mother of two dreadlocked/braided teen girls, I salute these girls aged 12 to 18 who are rejecting the body shaming that insists that afros, dreadlocks and braids are ”dirty and messy” and the cultural genocide that does not want African pupils to speak African languages to each other at school, the criminalising of their movements that surveys Black girls when they are in groups of more than 2.

I recall being body shamed all through High School because of my baby fat and beautiful African bum. It was brutal. The shaming of Black Women’s bodies cannot continue to be a casual matter. It is violent. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Racist South Africa where White minority imagination is resisting the liberation project and where the revolution IS being televised. Just like 1976, language and Black being are sites of contestation. This Women’s Month is far more meaningful and has done far more to honour the spirit of the 1956 Women’s March than the pointless, vacuous , de-radicalised , ”soft and fluffy” celebrations of the past 15 years. Thank you Khwezi 4, thank you Marikana widows, thank you Caster Semenya and thank you Pretoria Girls High.

Black Girl – you MATTER. Your HAIR matters, your LANGUAGE matters, your CHOICES matter and your VOICE matters. In case I haven’t told you today – you are valuable, loved, precious and powerful. Speak even if your voice shakes and fight even while you are scared. I LOVE you Black Child, Black Girl, and I stand with you. You give me such hope and courage. #Racism and imperialism ARE falling #Afros and Dreadlocks are Rising.

Living in Fear: The Plight of African Nationals in India

Late at night on 30 January 2016, a Tanzanian woman was dragged out of her car, stripped, and beaten in the south Indian city of Bengaluru. A local vigilante mob decided to punish her in this way because half an hour earlier a 35-year old Sudanese male driver, Micah S. Pundugu, had run over a local female resident and sped away. The Tanzanian student had no clue about the accident. Nor did she have any connection with Pundugu. Yet the crowd allegedly paraded her naked, and torched her car presuming that since both were African nationals there had to be a connection. When a local bystander tried to help her by handing her a t-shirt, he was thrashed too. The 21-year old woman – a second-year BBA student at Acharya College, Bengaluru – then tried to escape by climbing onto a passing bus that had slowed down to watch the ‘spectacle’. But the passengers immediately hurled her back into the arms of the mob. According to media reports, all of this happened as the local police stood by watching the events. When the woman finally managed to escape, she remained in hiding at a friend’s place for two days – with good reason given that there were reports of angry mobs scouting the area for African residents. In her conversations with the media, the Home Minister and the police chief, the Tanzanian student later noted that when she sought to file a police report soon after Saturday’s incident, the policemen told her she could file the report only after she brought to them the Sudanese national responsible for the accident.

As public figures like External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, social activist and actress Nandita Das, and journalist Vir Sanghvi publicly condemned the incident, others like Karnataka Home Minister G Parmeshwara denied both its racial and sexual overtones. Union Law and Justice Minister DV Sadananda attempted to explain away the mob violence by emphasizing that Africans in India were involved in “illegal activities”, and outstayed their welcome in India on “expired visas”. Soon enough the issue devolved into political mudslinging between the BJP and the Congress parties over the issue of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s silence on this occasion vs. his prompt response in the Rohith Vemula suicide.

The latter kinds of response swiftly obfuscated the very real issues of everyday racist and sexual violence faced by African nationals in India. However, outraged by Sunday’s incident, several African students spoke out about their everyday encounters with racism. “People call us names. The ‘N’ word, blacky, blackberry, even ‘monkey’. It happens on the road while driving, at public places and even at the locality we live in”, said BSc student Axell Mouassoumy from the Republic of Congo. Abigail noted how her beloved Bollywood films are definitive in shaping prospective students’ expectations of India, i.e. they expect the same kind of warmth and color as portrayed in those films. But they are often sadly disappointed by the reality of racist attitudes in the country. Ironically, Bollywood films also perpetrate denigrating stereotypes about blacks and Africans. As Sai Hussain has noted, black characters in Indian cinema continue to be “written one-dimensionally, and often negatively”.

The Bengaluru incident is only one of the many recent cases of extreme violence against Africans in India. Other cases reported in the media include:

  • The stoning of Burundi national Yannick Nihangaza in April 2012. Yannick was heading to a party when nine young men repeatedly assaulted him with stones. Yannick’s injuries put him in a coma for 2 years ultimately leading to his death in July 2014.
  • The New Delhi Rajiv Chowk metro station case where three African male students were mercilessly beaten with fists, and sticks in September 2014. They “were allegedly “misbehaving with women.” The crowd looked like “a lynch mob beating the black men with sticks while yelling, ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’” i.e. “Victory to Mother India”.
  • The robbing and gang rape of a 24 year old Rwandese woman returning to her home near Delhi University, in December 2012.

In a critique of violence against Black people in India, journalist Palash Krishna Mehrotra wrote, “Indians may scream ‘racism’ abroad (U.S.A. and Australia) but they see no problem in mistreating the black community or anyone who looks different, at home”.

It is high time we realized the gravity of the situation, and took action to stop such minority discrimination and targeted violence in India. How can we continue to proudly claim the legacies of Gandhi and Gautam Buddha when we cannot follow their basic lessons in non-violence and respect for individuals of all classes, castes, and colors? No matter how developed a nation we become in terms of smart cities and world-class physical infrastructures, if we cannot show basic human respect and consideration towards gendered and ethnic minorities and immigrants; if we cannot respect trust in the law and order mechanisms of our country, the “Incredible India” we know and love will soon implode from within.

 

(Photo Credit: NDTV.com)

Misogyny and Racism among Republican Contenders for the 2016 Presidency

The current competition among several Republican candidates to win the Republican ticket for the 2016 Presidency is overwhelmingly centered on statements and promises to support policies that are misogynistic.

Candidate Donald Trump is gaining popularity among the Republican voters for his stance on immigration. He vows to deport the children, even if they are American citizens, born to “illegal immigrants.” Apart from this notion being unconstitutional, it exposes an immigration restriction that used to be applied more than a century ago–the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, “which severely restricted the entry of unmarried Asian women [my emphasis] into the United States as part of an effort to limit the growing Asian and Asian American population” (Gurr 30). Other Republican candidates, like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, are in agreement with Trump, although Jeb Bush has picked Asians over Mexicans as his voodoo doll.

In giving credence to the belief in ousting children of illegal immigrants, Republican candidates are enhancing the population control practices that have been historically enacted on poor and non white populations.

The most recent battle is being waged to defund Planned Parenthood, an old battle that has now become frenzied and vicious. The gradual erasure of Planned Parenthood from many states attests to the gradual diminishment of health care for women who are particularly disadvantaged—rural women, poor women, teenagers, women of color. While the Republicans have built up arguments about Planned Parenthood’s evil, like their trade in “baby organs” (fetal tissue), based on evidence collected by decoy clients, the facts remain glossed over and unheeded: Abortion is a vital service PP offers, but is not federally funded and is a tiny percentage of the care that Planned Parenthood offers women, from prenatal care to breast cancer screening and HIV tests.

Also, much talked about in the news is Trump’s crass treatment of Fox’s news anchor, Megyn Kelly. In critiquing Trump, one finds oneself supporting an equally misogynistic and neoliberal institution, Fox News. Interestingly enough, during the first Republican debate, Megyn calling out Trump’s misogynistic name calling of women made her a target of Trump’s humiliating riposte—he questioned her intelligence and her work as a journalist. And she was not spared the name calling either; on social media, Trump continued his war days after his first fracas, and called her a “bimbo.”

While many have rallied to Megyn’s support (due to her privilege of being an anchor on Fox, her youth, her whiteness, and her class), there was no protest or walk out when Jorge Ramos, a top Latino journalist, was summarily kicked out by security when he tried asking Trump a question about his proposed immigration policy! Here we see, along with misogyny, a deep and fertile racism, (the two often go together), but a section of the populace is eager to overlook these events as harmless, pure theater.

These recent events bear a dangerous echo to the beginning of the Nazi era and Hitler, with Mein Kampf as the bible that would build a country based on exclusions through genocide of the unwanted. If Americans select a President who will enact policies that are racist and misogynist and do away with press freedoms, we can begin to believe that we have lost our basic human and civil rights. We need to be angry, stay alert, and organize more than ever.

 

 

(Photo Credit: Getty Images / Fusion)

Too Black to be French ?

Friday evening on the French/German television channel ARTE, random Black French citizens responded to Isabelle Boni-Claverie a French-Ivoirian screenwriter and film maker, “You know you are Black in France when…” Her latest documentary entitled “Trop noire pour être française ?” (Too Black to be French ?) mixed her personal story with these testimonies and interviews with philosopher Achille Mbembe, historian Pap Ndiaye, sociologist Eric Fassin, socio-demographer Patrick Simon and anthropologist Sylvie Chalaye to explore the experience of being a French Black citizen in the 21st century.

The urge to make this film came after the so-called “affaire Guerlain” in 2010, when renowned perfumer Jean Paul Guerlain explained on French public television how he created a perfume: “I worked like a nigger. I don’t know if niggers have always worked like that, but anyway.” Boni-Claverie was shocked by this comment. Apart from the strong reaction of Audrey Pulvar a “Black” French journalist, the overall press response showed that the remark was accepted as a verbal gaffe and nothing else.

She started an internet-based citizen movement and, along with other movements, organized demonstrations in front of Guerlain headquarter. The movement persisted and grew forcing Jean Paul Guerlain to face justice. He apologized in court saying that he was anything but racist; nevertheless he was convicted.

Boni-Claverie’s documentary explores the idea that his words are jokingly accepted because the stereotype has prevailed in the privacy of what is left of the imaginary of the colonial social construction of France and western countries. She uses her personal family story to untangle the colonial past and mythology that leads to what it means to be Black and French in the 21st century.

The underlying question of her documentary is the absence in France of ethnicity statistics, a necessary tool to see more clearly ethnic discriminations. The question still raises resistance for several reasons: one inherited from the resistance to ethnic murders of the Vichy government during World War II, and the other the belief that blindness to differences will guarantee equality, which is blatantly false.

Boni-Claverie’s personal story and inquiry is nourished with the love story of her grand parents, her grandmother a White law student from rural Tarn, in southwestern France, and her grandfather an Ivorian law student. They defied all stereotypes and laws and got married in 1931 both as French citizens.

France has its own stories to justify colonization, all of them based on the view of the colonized as children and thus not able to run their own lives (just as women). The story of a military defeat against Germany in 1870 also played a major role. As a result, France, a defeated empire, needed compensation in the “unknown lands”. The country sought to annex natural resources and labor force, including canon fodder in Africa as explains Achille Mbembe.

Thus, her grandfather born in 1909 in Ivory Coast, annexed by France, was an “indigene” and although the educative function of the colonies was part of the mythology, education was to be sought in France at the charge of the colonized.

Isabelle Boni-Claverie looks into the fantasizing civilizing mission of the colonizers that has fueled Nicolas Sarkozy’s declarations as a President of France. She replays parts of the infamous speech of Dakar, a slap to the Africans received on their soil. Sarkozy played on the mythologies of colonization to assert that “the African has not fully entered into history”, emphasizing the impossibility of the traditional African man to ever launch himself toward the future.

The “Guerlain affair” occurred during the Sarkozy years in power, with the creation of the national ministry of immigration and national identity, since removed by the Hollande administration. Boni-Claverie inserts a sequence on the role of stereotypes in the colonial construction and how they have persisted and evolved to justify inequalities that are suitable to the French elite and keep French Blacks in questionable citizenship.

In between sequences come the testimonies of anonymous citizens such as this particular one: “You know you are Black when as a member of the staff of a restaurant you must serve the meeting of Le Pen, and you see yourself afflicted with slurs, that you are called cheetah, nigger (negresse), that some throw sugar at you or other cookies and they ask you to pick them up.” This testimony is a reminder of the racist slurs toward Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice, and toward Najat Vallaud Belkacem, the Minister of Education.

Sociologist Eric Fassin then reminds viewers that to be French is a question of rights and should not be questioned, as it is written in Article 1 of the Constitution. Isabelle Boni-Claverie asks her relative from the Tarn region about her grandparents and her cousin concludes strongly: You are a Tarnaise! Yes she is in the majority and still…

Playing on the “alchemy of race and rights” the White socio-demographer and the sociologist ask: “Are the Whites ready to become White?” Patrick Simon reminds us that the surface identity is White, and the Whites define the other in comparison with them. He admitted that he questions his own identity, as a White heterosexual male.

At this moment in the documentary the interrogation flips: “You know you are White when a friend of yours goes through ID and is checked and nobody ever asks for your ID.”

Isabelle Boni-Claverie’s grandfather was the first French magistrate of African origin. She comes from a privileged background and yet class does not protect from discrimination, although, as she recognizes, class provides some entitlement if, and only if, one assimilates. Then the group remains “entre-soi”, “among friends”, a sort of homogeneity defined by class, race and gender. Otherwise the response is merciless. Paradoxically, privileged class is often the source of the most disguised but nasty racism, according to Boni-Claverie.

She demonstrates that the personal is political. Her grand parents lived together for 50 years, her grandmother passed first and her grandfather soon after. Boni-Claverie concludes that together they made themselves believe that the advent of a post racial society had happened. She ends by asking: How much time for that to be a reality for all?

Liberation opened a page for testimonies: “You know you are Black when…” The page filled quickly with important, must-read testimonies. The documentary will be distributed to associations to raise awareness; it came with a petition to promote the establishment of quantitative data on discrimination. It is the responsibility of the French State to have its principles written in its Constitution respected.

 

(Photo Credit, Video Credit: YouTube.com/ Voyage Voyage)

Turn “Jeff Davis” into Arthur Ashe. Do it now!

IMG_3775

If you live in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, California, or Washington, you might live near Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. That’s right. From sea to shining sea, from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border, Jefferson Davis is “honored” and, presumably, you are honored to drive in his memory.

In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy designed, planned and sponsored the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway system, which was to extend from Washington, DC, to San Diego. Their plan was to overlay the Confederacy onto the map of the United States, an ocean-to-ocean highway that would compete with the Lincoln Highway. While the coordinated highway system no longer exists, in each of the states mentioned above, parts of it survive, and under the name Jefferson Davis Highway.

In 2002, when Washington State Representative Hans Dunshee proposed changing the name of Washington’s Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, he ran into a whirlwind of opposition, because nothing says the Pacific Northwest like … the Confederacy and the war to preserve slavery. As Dunshee noted, “People are saying, ‘Oh, Jeff Davis was into roads for the Northwest.’ That’s their cover. But let’s be clear. This memorial was not put up by the AAA. It was put up to glorify the Confederacy.” The president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy weighed in, complaining that the change would “cause more hard feelings and certainly will not unify our country.”

When Dunshee first discovered the presence of the Confederacy in his home state, he said, “I was astonished that it was there. And then I was disgusted.” Disgust is a good response. Dunshee’s disgust only deepened, once he received calls telling him “to go back to Africa and take all of his kind with him.” Hans Dunshee’s “kind” would be German and Irish.

Nine years later, in 2011, in Arlington, Virginia, the Arlington County Board renamed a part called the Old Jefferson Davis Highway. It’s now the Long Bridge Drive. Why the name change? As then-County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman explained, “I have a problem with ‘Jefferson Davis’ [in the road’s name]. There are aspects of our history I’m not particularly interested in celebrating.”

While the “Old Jefferson Davis Highway” was part of the original Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, it wasn’t included in the Commonwealth’s 1922 designation of the Jefferson Davis Highway, and so Arlington County could change the name, once it convinced opponents that perhaps the real “importance of history” is not its repetition but rather its analysis and critique.

Meanwhile, the rest of Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in Virginia falls under the Commonwealth administration, and so any change there must go through Richmond.

The lesson of history has to be that people can change their histories and themselves for the better; that we don’t happen upon progress, we make progress happen. From Washington, DC, to Charleston to Washington State, make freedom ring. Move from astonishment to disgust to astonishment. Tear down the flag; rewrite the name. In Virginia, turn “Jeff Davis” into Arthur Ashe, a proud son of Virginia of whom we are all proud. Do it now. It’s the least we can do.

 

(`Jeff Davis’ Photo Credit: author’s photo) (Arthur Ashe Photo Credit: Charles Tasnadi / Associated Press)

White fear of Black success

White people kill Black people because they’re doing things right, not despite that.  That’s the problem, you see.  We can’t have that.

Black people who start hot meal programs for the people in their communities – we can’t have that.  Black people who attend church every week – we can’t have that.  Black people so carefree they spend time together at the pool – nope, that’s not gonna work.

When you have to be afraid to simply be in the world—to be with your friends, to buy candy, to look at toys, to worship, to walk—you’re living in terror.  People who stare that terror in the face and live anyway, and thrive anyway, and help anyway, those are the people whites fear the most.

The terrorist massacre in Charleston occurred about 100 miles away from an area in South Carolina where, in 1862, Union Army General Ormsby Mitchel ordered that a town for freed Blacks be created.  The town, which came to be called Mitchelville, was designed as an experiment to demonstrate to white people whether African Americans were capable of organizing and governing themselves after emancipation.

This was all explained to my family and me by a Gullah man named Emory Campbell when we visited the area three years ago.  It will not surprise you to learn that the town thrived.  The “experiment” worked, and the 1500 African Americans who lived there succeeded in establishing farming collectives, stores, a government, a school (along with laws about compulsory education), and a church.

And that was the problem.  According to Campbell, the town was set on fire – not unlike other Southern towns along the coast, from Charleston to Florida, that had been ordered by Union Army General William Sherman to be settled by freed Blacks for farming.  Mr. Campbell showed us the only material remains of Mitchelville, South Carolina:  some bricks from the church the community built.

Success is a damnable thing for Blacks.  Some forms of social organization (such as mass incarceration and residential segregation) are meant to stifle such success.  But when people achieve success anyway, well, we’ve got to put a stop to that, don’t we?

 

(Photo Credit: WoodandPartners.com)

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)

No Black children allowed!

 

Schools are segregated. So groups of kids who gather together after school are often homogenous. In the sliver of Washington, DC where I live, this means groups of high schoolers and middle schoolers are Black, while the kids on toddler playgrounds are white.

Corner stores have dealt with this gentrification in the typical ways: They have begun to stock kombucha, organic almond milk, and craft beer. They have taken the bullet-proof partitions down. And they have banned anyone under the age of 18 from coming into their stores after 3PM without their parents.

3PM means after school. And kids who are not with their parents are those who are old enough to be out on their own. Combine this with the racial dynamics of the neighborhood and you’ve got a community full of Black kids who are not welcome in neighborhood stores.

This is not the case in all neighborhoods. It is the case in mine.

Last night we sent my 10-year-old daughter and her friend to the corner store to pick up some cooking oil so we could get dinner ready. She carried a reusable shopping bag and a $20 bill, and walked three blocks to the store where we have shopped since she was a baby. When they got there, the shop owner turned them away, citing the 3PM policy.

We paused when they came home empty-handed. My daughter is biracial and her friend is Black, and this is one of the many times when a parent has to wonder how much that matters. So we called a white friend and asked her to send her son to the same store. He went in by himself, and came out with gummy bears.

My partner and I separately had long conversations with the store owners after this. It felt like a bunch of busy words filled up the air while we spoke. This couldn’t possibly have happened, they said. Or the kids must have gotten mixed up and gone to a different store by mistake. Or they must have done something wrong while they were in the store.

These are small businesspeople. I know they work long hours and they have been friendly to us in the past. They probably have families of their own to protect. But they turned away 10-year-old kids trying to buy cooking oil. I have no idea what is in their hearts and minds, nor do I care. What I have is evidence that the 3PM policy has turned into a cognitive finger-snap for them. They see Black kids in the store [snap!], they send them away. They see a white kid, they allow him to spend his money.

To help register the impact that we and our neighbors hope to make by not shopping at this store anymore, the kids have made stamped postcards with the market’s address on them. They say, “Because you turn Black kids away, we have chosen to spend our money at a different store today. We spent $______.” Let’s hope their mailbox fills up, and their cash register empties out.

 

(Image Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images / Washington Post)