It’s On Us… (A BLM Essay)

There is so much to be said and there is so much being said. Lack of efforts are not a good enough excuse ignorance and silence. Black people deserve to live full lives. They deserve to have joy, love, shelter, food, and opportunities… and if you (a non black person) continues to believe that they have the same opportunities as the rest of us, you’re still not listening. You’re still asleep. Policies need to change! We need to ensure protection for black humans.

🙏🏽 Join your city council meetings if you haven’t already done so. 🙏🏽
Policies need to change. We need to protect black people. We need to protect black trans people. We need to protect black women. We need to protect black children.

This painting has gone to a beautiful interracial family who just announced the birth of their first baby. I hope the future is a safe space for her. It is our job to ensure the future of all black children, children of color and queer children. The painting represents the strength, resilience, innocence, and beauty of black girls and women in all kinds of relationships–be it siblings, parents, and friendships. It represents the bonds and communities they create and all the curious and magical ways they continue to uplift themselves.

We don’t deserve them, but they continue to forgive and love us.

Untitled by Christina Xu for Living Artist Project

Christina Xu, is an artist and muralist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been a Living Artist Project Contributing Artist since 2014. Find her work at www.christinaxu.art or follow her on IG @ChristinaXu_.

Reclaiming the Self: A Return to Ancestral Wisdom

The Black church is currently experiencing an exodus of its millennials who are seeking community and spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center stated that four out of ten millennials are likely to claim no religious affiliation (Cox, 2019). It is assumed that those who are leaving the church are becoming atheist or agnostic, however, this is not necessarily the case. As the church experiences an exodus, many millennials are finding their genesis in traditional African spiritual systems and the wisdom of their Ancestors.

What are African Spiritual Systems?

African spiritual systems are those that predate the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and were practiced on the African continent prior to European colonization. While the spiritual tradition varies dependent upon where one is on the continent, two that are most widely known throughout the diaspora are Ifá and Vodun. The practice of both systems has been vilified throughout history, but particularly after the Haitian Revolution because during the Haitian Revolution, an important Vodun ceremony took place at Bois Caimen that helped assist the enslaved Africans defeat and drive away their French colonizers. The vilification and demonization of these systems has helped ensure that diasporic Africans remain disconnected from their Ancestors, and therefore themselves. Though the systems may vary, there are a few key elements that translate between them.

Ancestral Veneration: It is often assumed that in African spiritual systems, people are worshiping those who have transitioned. To venerate means to pay homage to and show deep respect for someone or something. The Ancestors are given a high level of respect because they are their descendants’ first line of defense, and a connection to the spiritual realm. They are able to help guide and direct their descendants, as well as keep them from harm or unwise decisions. It should be noted that all cultures have a form of Ancestral veneration but may not realize it. For example, when going into an elder’s home, you may see that they have a collection of obituaries on their mantle, and photos of the transitioned all throughout their home. Though they may balk at the idea of setting up an Ancestor altar, they are engaging in a form of ancestral acknowledgement. Additionally, when one “pours one out for the homies,” it is a libation used to honor those that are no longer physically present. Elements of the African worldview and thought process are syncretized into modern day practices, often without a true understanding of where the traditions originate from.

Belief in a Divine Creator: African spirituality is often viewed as polytheistic due to the presence of Orisha (Ifá) or Loa (Vodun), who practioners can work with and call upon. However, there is still the belief in a singular Divine Creator who is not assigned a gender and is considered to encompass both genders.

Divination: In Christianity and Islam, one of the primary tenants is faith. However, African spiritual systems include divinatory abilities. Practioners do not have to guess if they are in alignment, making good decisions, or moving in purpose. With the ability to divine on a matter, practioners are able to move throughout the world in a more effective manner with a certainty that what they are doing is correct, or that what they are doing will lead towards harm.

“Bevier Pot” by Adrienne Cacitti for Living Artist Project

Why is Returning to Ancestral Wisdom Important?

2020 has shifted everything, including worldviews and ideologies. This time of quarantine and social distancing has allowed many to sit with themselves for the first time in years, or first time ever. During this time of sitting with oneself, many have come to realize that the ideologies and expressions of self they were taught to hate and fear, might hold the key to their wellbeing. The Ancestors are our first line of defense, as such, it is necessary to be still and listen to what they are trying to teach us. We cannot claim to be their wildest dreams if we are not taking heed to their advice, or diminishing their practices. It’s not enough to rally against systemic anti-Blackness if one does not address internalized anti-Blackness that is present through the demonization of one’s own traditions. Regardless if one chooses to participate in an African spiritual system, it should be understood that there are alternative epistemologies, and wisdom to be gained.

Barriers to Black Voter Turnout in 2020

While discussion continues about law enforcement and its practices, other factors make this year a very critical one for Black voters. Here are some things to consider on the way to the polls come November:

Proper Allocation of Resources

Redlining, a term popularized in the 1960s by American sociologist John McKnight, has been long practiced in the United States. It has kept Black people away from the voter ballot and has dismissed their concerns. What makes redlining particularly painful to voters is the fact that it perpetuates generational wealth, medical, and food disparities, and those areas deemed “unsafe” 80 years ago are still low to middle-income today

Less money means more voter suppression and less political reach through lobbying and other means. While there are some well-heeled Black people in the United States, Black people as a class do not have wealth that is on par with other groups.

Imbalanced Use of the Census

Another example of this institutionalized segregation — illustrated in Christian Farias’ 2019 article Is There Racist Intent Behind The Census Citizenship Question? — wherein Farias explores how the ethnicity and citizenship information is gathered by the Census and used. 

Everyone is supposed to count, but that hasn’t always proved to be a positive experience. Because of this and other factors, there is public distrust of the Census Bureau, as the Census has been historically used to funnel resources away from areas that happened to have high populations of Black people. 

Health Concerns

Media discourse around COVID-19 threatens to discourage the use of voter participation as a way of biological redlining. With COVID disproportionally affecting Black people, voters have to remain engaged in political conversation, distancing or not. The rub here is that many constituents expect this to happen but will not respond accordingly. 

So what can we do to be prepared for months coming ahead? Some simple steps are:

  • Start or join a healthcare sharing group.
  • Find out more about the Census.
  • Research ways to become financially literate, or if you already are, share that knowledge with those in your community.

Why I Support Black Lives Matter (Youth Speak Out Series)

2020 has been a rough year for everyone, but change is happening. The passing of George Floyd, a black man brutally murdered by a police officer by the name of Derek Chauvin. This sparked the outburst for the protests of Black Lives Matter (BLM) with sayings of “Defund the Police” or “I can’t breathe.” Police brutality has been going on for years and has unfortunately been targeted toward the black community.  

Innocent black citizens across the world have been murdered by the people who are sworn to “protect and serve” their country. Protests have hit the streets, as of now, all 50 states have protested Black Lives Matter, and it is still happening today. For people saying “If someone breaks into your house, who are you going to call if you defund or abolish the police?” We aren’t saying defund or abolish the police to get rid of police as a whole, but to change the cement and the base of what the police force is built on. Back in the Civil War, the police force was a “slave patrol” and had every intention to find, capture, and return escaped slaves to their masters. Sometimes it went as far as killing slaves. Yes, we may call 911 for a missing person, domestic violence, etc., but we expect someone that only needs six months of training, a high school diploma and has a lethal weapon with NO de-escalation training to help us? There’s bound to be some sort of problem.  

There is also a saying, for the other side that Blue Lives Matter, but I, personally do not believe that saying. In Black Lives Matter, the black community is born with their skin color, and could/is afraid of them getting killed because of the color of their skin, instead with Blue Lives Matter, cops aren’t born with anything that could make them be afraid of anything. They are given a blue uniform, putting them in Blue Lives Matter. It’s unfair for people to turn around and say Blue Lives Matter if police can’t get killed due to the color of their skin. Yes, police could be afraid of their daily job, putting their lives in danger, but they signed up for it. They knew what they were going into. If you look down on the other races, why abuse your power and go out of your way to kill an innocent person due to the color of their skin? 

 A person I am about to talk about was killed by the color of his skin. Elijah Mcclain, say his name. Elijah was killed in August of last year but his case is just now opening back up. Elijah was 24 when he was killed by police. Elijah would stop by his local pet adoption center and would play the violin for the cats so they could fall asleep. One night, he was walking home. He was wearing a ski mask, and dancing/listening to music. A neighbor called the police, and had said they didn’t think that Elijah was doing anything suspicious, but to just check up on him. That didn’t end well, as Elijah was held down as paramedics injected an overdose of ketamine, a medication used to sedate someone. Elijah is one of the hundreds, of thousands, of black people killed by police. I feel horrible for Elijah and his family, Elijah probably had a better heart than me but was killed for the color of his skin.

So, in light of recent events, I hold my fist up high and will scream Black Lives Matter as loud as I can, so police brutality, and racism as a whole can end. There are plenty ways you can help support the movement. You can protest, sign petitions, and donate to cooperation’s that will help with the movement, and discuss the movement with friends and family. 2020 is a tough time, but we will get through this united.  

Black Lives Matter. 

About Rachel O.

Hello! I am Rachel. I am a young person who seeks to see change in the world through my writing. Although I aspire to be an actress on Broadway, I still love to write and love to inspire and create worlds of my imagination through my writing. I am very excited about this, as it is all very new and exciting for me, as it can help me grow and form into a strong independent person in the future.
Image from Taylor Madu

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 16): See’s Parable

One day, a rich and powerful White Woman invited a Black Woman from her church to work at her Famous Nonproffiting Feminarchy because she had demonstrated her character. During the Black Woman’s interview she was asked questions that did not pertain to the job, and most of the interviewers appeared to be angry or unhappy. She smiled and answered all the questions politely and with a bit of humor. Perservering through the Institutional Gatekeepers, she became a loyal and hardworking employee. Generous with her time, resources and support, she got to know the eight women where she worked four days a week, (not five). After two years, they seldom included her in conversations and sometimes snickered as she approached their groupings. When she left a meeting briefly, she returned to inexplicable hostility, which she valliantly attempted to ignore in order to participate. That summer, at their annual Professional Development Training, the White Facilitator attributed all the negative personality traits of the type to this Black Woman, while reserving all the positive traits of the same type to a White Woman across the room. The Black woman ran out on the second day of training, weeping. No one followed her out. No one checked in with her. A week later, this Black Woman believed she would eventually win over every woman in their small team, so she stopped at See’s Candies during her lunch break to buy dark-chocolate balls and mints, a favorite combination of the women in her office, but which she herself didn’t eat. In a sweet email, the Black Woman explained that she had left a special treat for everyone in the kitchen. At five o’clock, the Black Woman stopped in the kitchen to wash her mug and noticed that all the mints and all the chocolates were gone, but no one had thanked her or mentioned her contribution. The End.

Lesson 16: Learn how to identify and interrupt Microaggressions when they are enacted near you. Use the resources below and your accountability group to unlearn microaggressions and reduce instances of their harmful effects on Black, Indigenous and Latina women in your workplace.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 15): Form a Personal Accountability Group

Radical times, demand radical measures. Too many people live and work in isolated bubbles. In good times, our social circles insulate us from danger, change and uncomfortable truths. When closed social networks work best, they protect children, elders and the most vulnerable among us. When they breakdown, they lead to cycles of violence, insulation from external influences, prevent accountability and foster the sheltering of vile habits that can be toxic to our society. The social circle can be a beautiful family, or an impenetrable fortress of misdeed and dysfunction.

What would it have looked like if R. Kelly’s team of enablers challenged him by saying “no,” and setting limits to their involvement in abusing, trafficking and abducting girls and women for decades? Similarly, would an accountability team for Harvey Weinstein prevented numerous rapes and abuses? It’s time we stop looking backwards, and move toward remedying the accountability fissures in our society that lead to great harm. We have the power to hold each other to high standards well before harm is inflicted.

Creating a better, more just society, requires us to move beyond our primary circle of influence into spaces where community members, coworkers, friends and teachers play an important part in our choices. Accountability groups are particularly important to many Americans when they’re part of professional networks, like real-estate agents and tech innovators, who rely on each other to meet monetary and performance quotas. These worker remain in constant dialogue in order to expand services, develop working programs and promote healthy communication that apply directly to their financial bottom line. Unfortunately, most of the accountability is limited to projects with profits and not enough energy is invested to accountability for behavior and action.

Lesson 15: Seek out and form a formal a committed accountability group. Include people outside your family and immediate social circle, which is often not strong enough to counter social norms. Look to your church, sangha and professional networks, especially including people from different areas of your life, and if possible, of varied identity, ethnic or cultural background. Check in regularly about your agreements.

John Brown’s accountability network consisted of abolitionists in several states, who helped organize slave escapes, advocated for the abolition slavery and fought racism in the US.

These days, it’s simply not enough to move in the world without getting feedback from a group of conscious peers. We can all stray, misinterpret or fall short of our own best practices. We need good people who will not flinch at truthfulness. In the near future, all children will learn about preventing oppression in primary school. Until then, adults must invest the time and energy necessary to unlearn bad habits while remaining accountable for our words, deeds and actions. Accountability isn’t easy, but we’re definitely capable.

The Forest for The Trees: Shifting Perceptions of Black Cannabis Use

In light of the recent events surrounding police brutality and the contact that law enforcement makes with Black people, it is critical to consider the disproportionate sentencing and treatment of Blacks as a result of minor offenses involving small amounts of drugs, namely cannabis.

On May 1, 1971, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act. This legislative action effectively initiated concentrated punitive force in low income, high crime areas that happened to be populated by the Black community. Soon after, researchers, psychologists, and legal professionals began to notice the number and nature of arrests skyrocketed past those in Caucasian communities for similar offenses.

In response, states across the country have taken steps to decriminalize marijuana possession. For example, on November 4, 2018, the state of Massachusetts passed a bill to allow cannabis possession in small amounts. However, the ACLU has found that the changes in regulation have not made sufficient impact in changing arrest rates — Black people are still 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites.

What could be generating the gap between the two demographics? Harvard anthropologist Jason Silverstein asserts that a failure of empathy perpetuates racial disparities. Cannabis is widely known to alleviate various medical ailments. In his study, Silverstein concludes that both Black and white people seem to think that Black people feel less pain. 

This sentiment is crucial when considering the verbiage used when describing the so-called “War On Drugs” in Black neighborhoods versus the “opioid epidemic” in white communities. This difference in perception means white offenders can more readily build a life after being in the legal system while Blacks have more difficulty when they leave.

Some states are at the forefront of change. Colorado has already taken action to grant pardons for cannabis convictions. Such convictions can interfere in achieving important milestones such as leases, mortgages, and jobs.

Pushes for empathy and investigation of the long-term effects of inequitable arrests can inform ways of creating a more even playing field in terms of economic equity for Blacks.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 14): July 4th Peace Action

It is a known fact that Indigenous Women experience a disproportional percentage of the violence in American society. The consistent predation on Indigenous women in the United States is an example of Violent Racism in action; the sustained, documented and permitted murders is Government-sanctioned lynching of our courageous Earth defenders. Indigenous Women and girls’ disappearances go unnoticed, uninvestigated unprosecuted and unquestioned by those in authority. Their murders are equivalent to the ongoing lynching of black men and women. This has to stop.

Let Indigenous Women and Girls Thrive!

Your Radical Solidarity is required to bring renewed and continued attention to the plight and condition of Indigenous communities in our country. We must make amends, reparations and heal the historic harm imposed on the original People of this land.

Lesson 14: Dedicate July 4th to non-violent remembrance and action for Indigenous Women, Girls and Families who have been historically hurt, raped, massacred and disappeared since Europeans invaded North America. Honor them with prayer, donations, awareness and respect. Avoid fireworks, gunfire and other militaristic displays of aggression as a show solidarity with Indigenous communities suffering and mourning from trauma, deprivation, cultural destruction and grief.

Here’s a short lists of organizations that you, your family and church can donate resources, time and support now more than ever. Unfortunately, the Indigenous community is also hit hard with Covid-19 because of historically-imposed Systemic Racism. From everything I understand, Indigenous people were steadfast allies to enslaved Africans during legal American Slavery. Let’s do our part for them, now.

It is time for the United States of America to follow suit with the Canadian Government‘s move to give the necessary attention, money and resources to the plight of disappeared, murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. We need accountability at all levels of Federal, State and Local government to protect our Indigenous communities from further harm. Start with your support and donations this July 4th.

“It is no longer good enough to cry peace; we must act peace, live peace and live in peace.” ~Native American Proverb

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 13): Stop the Labels!

Everyone likes to be called by their name. Almost no one likes their name to be mispronounced, changed or shortened by anyone other than their immediate family. And yet, so many people impose egocentric perspectives on our names. Worse, many people in our society openly express outrage, discomfort and blatant bigotry against people with Non-white names. This practice of Othering impacts most immigrants, Indigenous people and African Americans, who use naming as counter-cultural reclaiming mechanism for self-valuing: After Slavery, wherein most black people were given names by slaveholders, Black people collectively have reclaimed naming rights. Essentially, I want you to “Say my name.”

A temporary sign, labeling those allowed to walk on the street. The sign appeared for two days before disappearing again.

And still, we have even bigger problems than that: As a society, we are so comfortable with the status quo, we’ve forgotten the basic respect that begins with learning our student’s name. Labeling is pervasive in the workplaces, classrooms and interpersonal dynamic spaces like the Black Lives Matter Human Rights Movement. Even in smaller groups, like an email list, people resort to acronyms and other inventive labels to avoid saying individual names. Unfortunately, this is not a universal practice–White People are excepted. That said, large groups of us are lumped together, unnecessarily: For example the new label BIPOC. Such labels are a product of White-Anglo Saxon hegemony that dictates which names will be said aloud, and who gets a label. I don’t want to be consolidated into a convenient group. I want to be seen as I am.

Lesson 13: Practice learning and using individual names for all the people in your community. Avoid lumping people into groups when you can relate on an individual, personal level.

It’s time to drop the labels. Let the individuals in your social, neighborhood, church and work networks identify themselves. Take the necessary time to be in community with those closest to you. You’ll find it’s not as difficult as you imagined and that when you take the time, people will appreciate your authentic curiosity and willingness to learn.

“A flower grows in compost.”

“We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired.” ~Audre Lorde

Racism is Bad for White People, Too

Events in the last month or so have helped a whole new bunch of white folks understand the systemic and structural nature of racism in our society. I hear this in the conversations I’m having with other white folks, like me. I also see it in social media and op-eds and commentaries. Less and less do white folks attribute racism to “a few bad apples”; more and more we recognize the ways we benefit and black people and other people of color are penalized by the policies, practices, and procedures in all our institutions. All our systems — justice, education, health care, politics, just to name a few – were set up to benefit white people at the expense of people of color.

This understanding is an important step in dismantling these structures, but it is not enough. Another crucial step is for white people to recognize the often unacknowledged ways that we, too, suffer from the disease of racism.

Here’s an example:

You may have seen lists of ways that white people benefit from white privilege and by contrast the ways that people of color do not. One of the most famous was written by Peggy McIntosh. I want to call attention to #25 in her list: “If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.”

This is something I’ve heard many people of color talk about. For example, if they don’t get a job, they ask themselves, “Did I not get it because I’m a person of color?” If a cop pulls them over, or if a store security guard asks to see the contents of their bag, or if a host at a restaurant seats them at an undesirable table, or if a person on the street doesn’t greet them, or if someone gives them the side-eye, or if people in a waiting room who appear to have arrived after them get called before them – the list goes on and on for insults large and small. Some of these actions profoundly affect people’s lives and livelihoods, while others are microaggressions that contribute to an overall environment of hostility. Each leaves a question in their minds about whether or not racism played a role.

This constant questioning constitutes an undermining of people’s confidence. It adds stress to their lives, a continuous undertone of ambiguity and uncertainty about why negative interactions occur – was it random or was it intentional or was it unintended, but still ultimately motivated by implicit racism?

White people do not have to ask this question in the same way. Instead of the uncertainty of a negative episode or situation, white people suffer the uncertainty of a positive episode or situation.

This means that, as a white person, I have to now turn the question on myself in positive situations. Every time I was hired or not pulled over or smiled at or greeted or given a prime table at a restaurant or anything else positive, I have to ask, “Did I earn that, or was that just because I am white?”

For white people this question pulls at the mythology of American meritocracy, which says we are a nation of boot strap pullers and hard workers who deserve everything we get because we earned every bit. Racism calls all that into question. Maybe I have my job and house and reputation and everything else, not because I worked for them, but because I was simply born white.

In this way, racism insidiously causes a similar insecurity in all of us. None of us know if we are treated the way we are because of our character and qualities, or because of our skin tone. The difference, of course, is that white people with that insecurity have the option of putting people of color “in their place” as a way of saying, “Even if deep down I’m not sure why I have what I have, at least I’m better than them.” In other words, racism reinforces itself in a cycle of oppression that gives white people a false sense of our superiority – and we have to prove and protect it, again and again, in a fight with our own psyche that we can never win.

Racism is a societal and structural disease that we all suffer from, and we are all less for it. When white people recognize the ways that racism hurts us, too, we can begin to let go of the power and the privilege in the knowledge that we, and everyone else, will be better off. We can find the will and the ways to stop the cycle and end racism.

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Art by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project