Why We Need to Talk About Jussie Smollett

Reading Time: 4 minutes
 Just because someone yells ‘wolf’ when there isn’t one, doesn’t mean wolves  don’t exist.
In the weeks since Jussie’s attack, social media, black twitter and conservative pundits have voiced everything from outrage to disbelief to condemnation to ridiculous and such outrageous alt-right conspiracy theories that I won’t even waste my breath (or your time) to repeat or debunk.
Hard side-eye.
Undoubtedly, the news coverage around the #Smollett case has been an absolute emotional rollercoaster.

What was said? 

What was done? 

What was worn? 

Who was suspect? 

Who wasn’t suspect? 

Who could we really trust? 
The list goes on. And on. 
For many, the “safest” thing felt like silence. After all. What was known for sure? Others unequivocally condemned the event.
 While yet others decided that this was the best opportunity to decry Jussie with a “I never trusted that basic fool anyway…” 
Admittedly, my bias is to believe the victim. As someone who tries to work towards and for intersectionality, I believe it is my duty to believe and trust PoC. 
So, after reading initial reports, I openly condemned the attack without much thought regarding if the initial report was true. 
Because, and I will say this louder for the folks in the back, regardless of the Smollett outcome, we should not be sorry for believing and sympathizing with the victim. Our first instinct should always be that of compassion and empathy. Even one hate crime is one too many.

The most recent Smollett insanity began when it was reported that two suspects of interest were being questioned by the Chicago Police Department (CPD), both of which were of Nigerian descent and one of which apparently worked with Jussie on Empire
Things continued to spiral out of control when, after a series of tweets, news stations (ABC27, WGN, Variety) reported that Jussie staged the attack in order to avoid being written off of Empire. While others speculated that Jussie staged the attack because previous threats weren’t taken seriously.
To stave rumors, Empire writer’s room and co-creator, Danny Strong took to Twitter to debunk the rumors and Fox also released an official report debunking the hoax reports. 
Even CPD denounced various tweets saying that the alleged “sources” were deemed “uninformed and inaccurate.”
Did I mention this was a hot mess?
As I watched in disbelief at the social media cluster (because this IS a cluster), I couldn’t help but notice a few takeaways.
  1. Insta-Culture Prompts Insta-News. Everyone loves to be first. Whether it is a shot of Gaga performing live or a live video of the latest #challenge, social media has granted people an insta-platform unlike any other. Critics suggest it is important to identify what is gained by insta-culture. After all, who benefits by fragmentary news? But, quite certainly, social media and insta-culture has also provided new access and opportunity for marginalized voices to share and name stories of hate
  2. The depiction of PoC & LGBTQIA Communities as “non-credible sources” is a direct result of White Supremacy & Heteronormativity. Say it again for the folks in the back.
  3. This event caused harm. From first reports of “alleged hate crime” to Jussie’s indictment to Don Lemon’s scathing (and quite honestly, bewildering -because, let’s be honest, what was the point of his spiel?) condemnation, this event caused and will continue to cause harm to vulnerable communities. We cannot overlook this. Unfortunately, all too often, persons from a minority community are “representational” of all persons from that specific community be it race or sexual orientation or religion. This event caused harm.
  4. CPD has an overwhelming history of reinforcing and perpetuating institutional racism. 
  5. Allies don’t know how to react when persons from marginalized communities harm marginalized communities. I cringed writing this. Already, I can hear more of my more conservative relatives muttering things like “black on black crime.”  Another hard side-eye. In my *unpopular* opinion, we do ourselves a disservice when we refuse to name harm. In situations like these, white allies often talk about “taking advantage of goodwill…” etc., celebrities prematurely end Go-Fund Me’s (ie: Jazmine Barnes), and nationwide activists search frantically for a new soapbox. In their effort to find language to name harm, maintain their status as the “woke” ally and deconstruct whiteness, they often ignore these types of situations. Or, they center their phrases around constructs which center whiteness. For instance, the idea of “goodwill” is inherently connected with power and privilege. Who gets “goodwill.” What stories are allowed inherent belief? What stories are incoherently suspect? What kind of people get goodwill and what kind of people get unquestionable belief until proven guilty? To be fair, Smollet’s case was (perhaps rightly) suspect for a number of reasons. However, the ways in which “goodwill” and respectability politics colored the reporting is and was telling. When a black, gay man lies all black and gay people are suspect.  
Here is what I know. Some people will lie. 

Most notoriously, perhaps, like the case against Emmett Till. Or, as my more conservative acquaintances point out: Smollett. 

People will lie about something race related and something critical happens. Do we catch it? (Hint: often it relates to innocence of the victim with wider implications toward a specific community).

Do we notice the power breakdowns across race, gender and sexual orientation? Do we notice whom the media classifies as “bad.” Do we ask or demand better? Do we interrupt our own friends and communities? Do we identify it as a “race/gender/sexuality” “issue,” and ignore it? 

Speaking truth comes at a cost. And, speaking truth consistently requires vulnerability and risk. But, as advocates for equity and inclusion, naming and speaking truth is critical towards creating and maintaining sustainable and effective change. 

What does it mean to name injustice and untruth in communities in which “represent” us? What does it mean to talk about Smollett in majority communities? What narratives do we need to challenge? What emotions do we find in ourselves? 

What have been your thoughts about Smollett?
Shalom always.

White Fragility as Racial Violence

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Usually, when I write and/or speak about racism/white fragility/power & privilege/oppression, I receive pushback. As someone whom attempts to remain vocal about womanism, systemic and institutionalized racism, I expect this. 

I expect to get angry emails, texts and messages. I expect to be interrupted, denied and/or reported on Social Media. I expect that someone will accuse me of that bullshit notion of “playing the race card.”
In white, Christian circles, I expect that someone will say “You’re not really a Christian.” Or, “Jesus doesn’t see color, and neither should we…” Or, one of my favorites:“Jesus just wants us all to be happy…and you are just way too angry about racism.”

I expect all of this because interrupting white spaces of privilege and power too often triggers a response that results in white gatekeeping, white fragility and white tears, all of which are critical tenets of white supremacy.
I am writing this because I am exhausted, bewildered and angry about how white violence manifests as white fragility. I am writing this because too often the idea of white violence is relegated to blatant acts of physical violence like the Klan and the attack in Charlottesville.
Let’s commit to digging deeper.
White violence can be Sarah. Sarah works as a Registrar at a prestigious university She heads a D&I training course and denies admission to all people with “ghetto” sounding names.
White violence can be Mark. Mark is a real estate agent and loves “diverse” neighborhoods. Mark boasts about all the amazing food to his clients. Mark makes sure to show all his white client’s homes near the “good” schools. He refers out all his clients of color.

White violence can be Tasha. Tasha is PTO president. Tasha pushes for Black History Month art projects and Chinese New Year. Last year she started an International Day festival and a Girls STEM program. Tasha has been PTO President for three years and has never admitted membership to a POC. Instead, Tasha has allowed POC to volunteer for “diverse” events.
White violence can be Todd. Todd is a pastor of a white church with around 400 members. And, they all love mission work. In fact, every year, Todd hosts a community food drive for “local minority communities living in poverty.” Todd has never asked to partner with the local minority owned and run organizations which have already invested in these communities.
Last year, I had an incident with a close relative I will refer to as Steve. Steve is a white, cisgender, heterosexual, male. Steve was wearing an American Flag t-shirt and we were discussing racism. He began to raise his voice. 

He said, “everything you say is exaggerated…you always play the race card…why can’t you just be happy…Jesus just wants us to be happy…racism really doesn’t happen as frequently as you think it does…” We argued for approximately seven minutes. He stood over me while I sat down. 

When I pointed out to Steve that he was reproducing the actions of white violence, he demanded that I prove and explain racist events.

Questions like: How did I know they were racist? Did the racist person tell me that they were racist? Is it possible that the person I ‘assumed’ was racist could have just been having a bad day…Steve said, “when I see someone cut me off, I just assume that they are having a bad day and pray for them rather than assume it was because I am white…
Steve spoke louder and louder and exerted his right to an opinion and “fact.”
I ended the conversation early. I took a walk and sobbed.
That Steve was so comfortable that he could believe that it was his right to take up as much space as he wanted, to center whiteness and to demand my cooperation is not uncommon. That Steve refused to consider the historical implications, effects or realities of racism not only troubles me but terrifies me. That Steve believed that he held the “unbiased” truth on all things race related is not uncommon.
“From our vantage point in the margins, POC understand this situation as a reproduction of colonial weaponization” and a function of white supremacy. Steve could deny my reality/experiences because the source of proof for it was me, a black woman: societally erasable and valueless. It was a very visceral and ironic replication of our erasure and the erasure of our history, existence and knowledge.
Here was Steve in the middle of the woods wearing an American Flag t-shirt yelling at a black woman about racism.
White relatives watched the incident go down in varying degrees of silence and unhelpful comments.
This is white violence. I hold this event with me almost a year later, and I struggle to heal it or know how to speak into it. 
A few months ago, I was at a family gathering. A close relative, Tina (not her real name), approached me to say that they had been approached by someone to talk about the dangers of my blog and how un-Christian it was and what did they think of my morality? The relative went on to say that this was not an isolated incident and that they have been approached by people multiple times. What did I want them to say to these people?

I still cringe when I recall this event.
Perhaps you can relate?
It was clear, and rather ironic, to me that the situation relied on and centered white fragility. And, to be clear, white fragility is the weaponization of white supremacy and the erasure of POC experiences. Although, for a more technical term, I refer to Robin DiAngelo, acclaimed author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism:
White people in North American live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate the white equilibrium.”
Tina was coming to me for advice about a situation which was steeped in white fragility.
Someone was offended and therefore I couldn’t possibly be Christian.
Someone was offended and therefore my writing was dangerous.
Note how this “offense” triggered a response reliant on white gatekeeping and fragility.
This situation is also a form of white violence.
As I reflect upon these scenarios, I do a body check. I ground myself. Even now, I am taking a deep breath and reminding myself of my own “enough-ness.” Of intersectionality. So many other POC’s as well as LGBTQIA folks experience instances like this and so much worse every day.
When I reflect, I find myself wondering about the responses from other people that were there. Why didn’t the other white relatives intervene with Steve? What were they thinking? Why did Tina tell me about the situation? Why did people talk to Tina instead of me?
With Steve, I often question myself. Why didn’t I cut the conversation off earlier? Why didn’t I say x,y,z. Why did I give space for him to talk in such dehumanizing and violent ways to me, only to explain why it hurt me? And, why do we often give space for persons to speak in dehumanizing and violent ways?
It reminds me how easy it is to fall trap to social responses and conditions. I, and we, have been conditioned to answer white men in certain ways. To not upset them. To ignore and reject the space and labor those whom question our humanity, experience, knowledge, validity, visibility, take up.
Whiteness takes up space. White violence takes up space. Each of these elements takes space from someone else. And, each of these elements takes power and privilege from someone else.

I like Representative’s Maxine Waters demand, (and now viral meme), to reclaim our time. Reclaim our space. Reclaim our voice.
As I write this reflection, I am reminded of a series of events this week where a few of my girlfriends texted me to lament various acts of white violence in the forms of gatekeeping and fragility. During the emotional and mental exhaustion, they each found it important to connect with other safe spaces. To borrow from an article on The Brown Hijabi, ‘Reflections on a panel talk: the violence of white fragility and the erasure of its victims,”
[t]hat our being in spaces like that together, witnessing such violence together, having each others’ backs and validating each other’s truths is the most powerful thing we can do. It is not just survival but also recovery. To heal a wound you have to first acknowledge it. In a world which denies it is hurting us we sometimes forget we are wounded. And thus I feel an automatic love for women of colour who look at me and tell me they see my wounds, and they share them. Even such small acknowledgement is the difference between suffocating and breathing.”
Let’s commit to digging deeper. Let’s commit to seeing each other’s wounds. Let’s commit to the gritty work of loving one another deeply and fully.
I am here if you need to breathe.
Shalom always.

Homegoing: A Review

Reading Time: 3 minutes
I just finished Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, Homegoing, for the second time. And, it still has me shook.

For those who haven’t read it yet – please note the following will contain some spoilers.

Haunting. Emotive. Lyrical. Searing. Critical. Gyasi’s novel is a gripping generational timeless yarn of colonialism, identity, human trafficking and body politics. And, perhaps book ancestrally wise – Homegoing is a direct descendent of Chinua Achebe’s acclaimed novel,Things Fall Apart.

Homegoing follows the stories of two half-sisters, Essie and Effia – unknown to each other- and the six generations which follow, their lineage broken from colonialism and slavery. 

Each chapter, told from the perspective of a different character, evokes both the fantastical, depraved and the nightmarish while also evoking the nostalgic poetic motif, Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt? (where are those whom have gone before?).

And, while the reader is kept to task recalling which character belongs to which family tree, characters emerge and re-emerge in dreams and retellings from their descendants. This combined with a genealogical map located at the beginning of the book and two sturdy symbols: fire and water, help to maintain ancestral clarity between the two lineages.

Centering the enduring narrative of generational trauma, Homegoing’s tale remains unflinchingly searing and critical. And, the attention to nuanced, even controversial, themes (many of which remain almost hidden in dog whistles), of colorism, body politics, identity politics, misogyny and misogynoir, wealth, housing and educational inequities, power and privilege are particularly crucial.

In Isabel Wilkerson’s review of Homegoing on the New York Times, she notes this:
The West African chapters are the heart of the book, a deep channeling of multilayered humanity. Gyasi evokes what was lost to those who were sold away — the sense of individual and collective identity, a wealth of rituals and customs they’d be whipped for trying to retain in America. In the mother country, life’s losses and turning points were a time of communal recognition: The death of an Asante king was mourned for 40 days, weeklong puberty rites celebrated a girl’s first menstrual cycle. Identity and intimacy were bound up in language; a servant girl in mid-20th-century Ghana is shown speaking labored English to her employer, until he tells her to speak their own language. “We hear enough English here,” he says, and she breaks into Twi with relief. Thus begins one of the book’s lovelier courtships. But on a slave plantation in Mississippi, Esi tries to teach her young daughter, Ness, their native tongue and is given five lashes for every Twi word the girl speaks. Later, little Ness is sold off without warning or ceremony or permission to grieve.

Homegoing invites its readers to take a closer look at systemic injustice through its careful generational juxtaposition of the effects of colonialism, both in West Africa and America. 

And, indeed the almost magical realism of the first few chapters encourage a deeper investigation into themes of identity and belonging.

There are far better writers than I whom have offered outstanding reviews of this book, so I wanted to wrap up my review with some of the quotes I will be carrying with me.

  1. “We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.” 
  2. “The need to call this thing “good” and this thing “bad,” this thing “white” and this thing “black,” was an impulse that Effia did not understand. In her village, everything was everything. Everything bore the weight of everything else.” 
  1. “You cannot stick a knife in a goat and then say, “now I will remove my knife slowly – so let things be easy and clean; let there be no mess.” There will always be blood.” 
  1. “No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free.”
  1. “They would just trade one type of shackles for another, trade physical ones that wrapped around wrists and ankles for the invisible ones that wrapped around the mind.” 
  1. “…Tell a lie long enough and it will turn to truth.” 
If you have read the book what are you carrying with you? As always, I welcome discussion.

Shalom always.