This is part of a series where I'm holding myself accountable to consume content including videos, articles, films, podcasts, and more to better inform myself of the deep-rooted racism in America and Canada. These are notes that I took mostly verbatim.
Combahee River Collective was a Black feminist and lesbian organization in Boston from 1974 to 1980. They were key in pointing out that the white feminist movement - was racist- and the Civil Rights movement - was sexist, and that both were not addressing their needs as Black women.
Their document "The Combahee River Collective Statement" has greatly impacted community organizing for Black people and other POC who face sexual and racial oppression.
1) Genesis of Contemporary Black Feminism
Black women have always been a direct opposite comparison to the American political system - a system of white male rule. The Black feminist presence has evolved most clearly from the 2nd wave of theAmerican women's movement in the late 1960s. The disillusionment within many liberation movements (Civil Rights, Black nationalism, the Black Panthers) led to the need to develop a politics thats anti-racist AND anti-sexist.
Personal experience also plays a huge part in the genesis of the movement. Black feminists usually talk about feeling like they're crazy, before realizing that it's sexual politics, patriarchal rule, and feminism.
2) What We Believe
"We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us."
We believe that identity politics is the most profound and radical politics, rather than trying to end somebody else's oppression. In history, it's clear that all political movements prior to this, deems everyone else more worthy of liberation than Black women. It's difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression - because in the lives of Black women, these are often experienced simultaneously.
To liberate all the oppressed, we have to destruct the political-economic systems of capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy. We reject the stance of Lesbian separatism, and any sort of biological determinism.
3) Problems in Organization of Black Feminists
The hardest issue fo the collective's political work is that they're fighting oppression on multiple fronts. They also don't have any racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely on nor do they have resources or power.
There's also a psychological toll of being a Black woman. To reach the point of political consciousness and do political work - is a lot to ask. This resonates with me, and is aligned with similar language today that we should not have to rely on Black people to teach us about Black history.
"We exist as women who are Black who are feminists, each stranded for the moment, working independently because there is not yet an environment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle - because, being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world." - Michele Wallace
4) Black Feminist Issues and Projects
The collective is concerned with any issues that impinges on the lives of women, Third World, and working people. Projects that members have actually worked on are sterilization abuse (permanently ending someone's ability to reproduce without his or her consent), abortion rights, battered women, rape, and healthcare.
One major issue that the collective faces is eliminating racism in the white women's movement, this should be work done by white women, but the collective would continue to speak and hold them accountable.
The collective doesn't believe that the end always justifies the means. There have been many destructive acts that have been done to achieve the "right" goals, but they believe in collective process.
"As Black feminists and Lesbians we know that we have a ver definite revolutionary task to perform and we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggle before us."
5 Tips on How to be Antiracist | Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
Acknowledge your own racist thoughts and actions
In our society, it's inevitable that each of us have racist thoughts, biases, and prejudice. It's important to take the time to self-reflect and identify these moments in your life.
Confess to your racist thoughts and ideas
Saying "I'm not racist", doesn't mean that you're not racist
To be antiracist, we have to be continuously confessing and fighting our own thoughts and ideas 24/7
Define "racism" and "antiracist"
Identify systems, polices, and people of power that are racist
Support organizations or people who are challenging those in power and want to put in plac eantiracist policies
47 Roots | Article
"I think that, when libraries are targeted, the idea is to destroy entire entire, and to deny learning [...] We can add new books, but nothing can replace the old books, what was lost will remain lost forever." - Rohini Pararajasingam, the University of Jaffna's former chief librarian (2014)
On May 31st, 1981 the Jaffna Public Library in Sri Lanka was set on fire by security forces and state-sponsored mobs. This library had over 97,000 rare books and manuscripts, one of the largest in Asia and an important resource of Tamil literautre and culture.
At this point, ethnic conflict and violence escalated, as the police and paramilitaries began looting important Tamil cultural buildings (including the library), places of worship, statues of religious and cultural figures, and businesses.
Biblioclasm is a destruction of books or other written works as a form of censorship, and is a huge element of cultural genocide. It usually arises from religious, or political opposition to the content of these works.
In many cases, these writings are irreplaceable and wipe out a lot of cultural context and important history. A few notable examples in history include Nazi book burnings or the biblioclasm that happened under the Qin dynasty in China. The restored Jaffna building was eventually reopened in 2003.
Vox | June 16,2020
Other: History.com Article
The Tulsa Race Massacre has been called "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history"
May 31st and June 1st mark the 99th anniversary of the 1921 massacre, where a white mob attacked an affluent black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma
The Greenwood District aka "Black Wall Street" was a thriving business district that was destroyed:
1,200 homes and 35 blocks were burned
100 - 300 black people killed
Thousands (~8000) left homeless
After WW1, there was an increase in racial tensions including the resurgence of the KKK and racially-charged violence.
On May 30, 1921 19yo Dick Rowland a black man, was accused of assaulting a17yo white elevator operator - whose charges were later dropped.
Whilst in custody, an angry white mob gathered outside of the courthouse and spread rumours about a lynching. A group of 75 local armed black men came to the courthouse to protect Rowland, but instead were met by 1,500 armed white men. Shots were fired and white mob violence erupted.
White mobs looted houses, businesses, killed innocent citizens, and committed other heinous acts of violence. By the time the National Guard had arrived and declared martial law (direct military control) the massacre had ended. The Guard put out fires, but also imprisoned many black Tulsans.
The massacre wasn't talked about for decades because there were no records about its existence. When it was talked about, it was referred to as a "riot" to make it seem like a two-sided fight.
In 2001 (80 years after), there was finally an investigation and report:
Between 100-300 people were killed vs. the original tally of deaths of 36
The report explains that the city had conspired with the mob of white citizens against black citizens
The true location of all the deceased bodies is still unknown
The name of the report was changed from the 1921 Race Riot Commission to the 1921 Race Massacre Commission. It's important that we distinguish when we use the terms riot vs. massacre. We must understand that much of black history is either tainted to improve the view of White people, or black history is untold.
(Video: 53 minutes)
Other: The Event: How Racist Are You? with Jane Elliott (Video: 47 minutes), Lesson of a Lifetime (Article: 14 minutes)
Jane Elliott is famous for her lesson to her third-grade class about discrimination into blue and brown-eyed groups. She did this as a lesson to children the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, to illustrate what racism is.
She said to her class that, "The brown-eyed people are the better people in this room. They are cleaner and they are smarter." Immediately she noticed that some of her withdrawn brown-eyed students began to be more outgoing and happy, while smart blue-eyed students began making more mistakes. At recess, brown-eyed students started bullying blue-eyed students as well.
Later, she than reversed the exercise and told the students that she actually lied, and in fact it was blue-eyed students are better than brown-eyed. This time, there was a shift, and the blue-eyed students were a lot less mean than the brown-eyed. Likely, because they knew what it felt like to be on the other end. They understood the frustration, anger, and injustice of being treated less-than by something that you can not fundamentally change, like the colour of your skin or eyes.
This is a lesson of prejudice and the takeaway is clear. These children have experienced discrimination, but they only had to face this for a few hours, or a few days. Black people don't have the option to return to business as usual, and they face this abuse and discrimination every single day.
(Video: 23 minutes)
*Bear in mind this talk is from 2012, therefore facts and figures may be out of date*
This TED Talk features Bryan Stevenson, a human rights lawyer talking about the power of identity and the injustice in America. The America's criminal justice system is flawed - the US has highest rate of incarceration in the world. 1 out of 3 black men between the ages of 18 and 30 is either in jail, prison, on probation, or on parole. In America, the justice system treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent.
In Alabama, they actually permanently disenfranchise you if you have a criminal conviction. This means that you can lose fundamental rights. 34% of black male population has permanently lost the right to vote. When we debate about death row, the question should not be, "Does this person deserve to die for the crime they committed?", but rather "Do we deserve to kill?" In fact, for every 9 people executed on death row, one person is exonerated and released from death row. An absurd error rate when we are talking about human lives at stake. In aviation, we'd never let people fly on airplanes if for everyone 9 planes, 1 will crash.
Bryan talks about how he was teaching in Germany about the death penalty and one scholar noted,
"We don't have the death penalty in Germany, of course we can NEVER have the death penalty in Germany. There's no way with our history, we could ever engage in the systematic killing of human beings. It would be unconscionable for us in an intentional way to set about executing people."
It's clear that we're too comfortable, we don't like to talk about our problems and our history. In America and Canada, we have a problem. We can't commit to a process of truth and reconciliation. When we don't care about difficult things, the positive things are also implicated. For example, we love innovation, tech, entertainment but these are dangerously shadowed by suffering, marginalization, abuse, etc.
We need to be more courageous and we need to find ways to embrace these challenges and this suffering. Our humanity demands on everyone's humanity.
(Short-version: 7 pages)
Peggy McIntosh is an American feminist, anti-racism activist, and scholar. She founded the SEED Project, which works with teachers and profs to make school curriculum more multiculturally equitable and gender fair.
"I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group."
In society, we're taught that that racism is something that puts someone at a disadvantage. But we aren't taught that white privilege, is something that would put someone at an advantage. McIntosh describes privilege as an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions of maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.
She identifies conditions that apply mostly due to her skin-colour privilege instead of others (like race, class, location). She then lists daily effects of white privilege that she noticed - here's a few, but she listed a total of 50:
"1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. "
"5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed."
"8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race."
"15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection."
"20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race."
"21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group. "
"41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me. "
White privilege is difficult to catch. To face and confront the presence white privilege is daunting because you have to give up the idea of meritocracy. If white privilege is true, then it isn't a free country because no matter how hard certain people work, some doors will just never open. In many conditions, while white people were being made confident, comfortable and oblivious. Other groups were being made unconfident, uncomfortable, and alienated. McIntosh then challenges the word "privilege" because we usually think of it as being in a favourable state. But the (50) conditions she mentioned, work systemically to overempower white people. She better defines it as unearned advantage and conferred dominance.
Though if white people changed their attitude, racism be made less severe, but won't end. The first step is that we need to acknowledge it.
Atlantic (May 8, 2020) (Article: 15 minutes)
"The pandemic has exposed the bitter terms of our racial contract, which deems certain lives of greater value than others."
If you're unfamiliar with the story of Ahmaud Arbery. Here's a TLDR, he was running through a neighbourhood. Two men, Gregory and Travis McMichael, thought he was a burglary suspect, armed themselves, chased Ahmaud, and then shot him dead.
There are a few assumptions here that brought this event to life:
We're assuming that it's normal to chase down a stranger while being armed,
that the two armed white men had a right to self-defense where the black man who was suddenly confronted by them did not, and
that the law justifies the fact that two people can choose to chase, confront, and kill someone they have never met.
Philosopher Charles Mills coined a term called the "racial contract" which includes the underlying assumptions of white innocence and black guilt. Examples of the racial contract:
The law says that murder is illegal, but the racial contract says it's okay for white people to chase and murder black people if they decided that those black people scare them
Poor European immigrants (and many white ancestors) who came to America at a time where there wasn't enough bureaucracy to create immigration laws came the right way, but poor Central American immigrants evading a broken system are gang members and terrorists
This racial contract continues to live as long as it's invisible to those who are benefitting the most. COVID-19 has made the racial contract very visible in different ways. The world has noticed how disproportionately the epidemic is impacting those in power and in wealth, compared to those who are not. We're disproportionately seeing black and brown workers being sacrificed to work and keep our economy going. COVID is infecting and killing black and Latino Americans at disproportionately high rates. For example, in Kansas black people represent 6% of the population, but ~30% of COVID deaths. This is because of the overrepresentation of marginalized groups in professions that risk higher exposure, exacerbated by a government and system that is unwilling to take the appropriate measure to protect these workers. This is also happening largely due to the racial gap in wealth and income, making these populations more vulnerable to being laid off.
Black and Latino workers are overrepresented among the essential, the unemployed, and the dead.
White Americans are suffering yes, but now there's a perception that COVID19 is largely a black and brown problem. The increase of anti-lockdown protests, Trump's dismissal of the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, and the eagerness of governors to reopen the economy before being able to safely send citizens to work is proof that on America's agenda, containing COVID is no longer our collective social responsibility, but the personal responsibility of black and brown people.