Writing on the Wall

On my way home after a great afternoon and evening out for two different friend dates. Walking to the bus stop, I see this fabulousness:

Yes. That is all. That is all. One call for each of the next four years as THOTUS drags us toward hell.

#RiseAndResist





It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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Do I still take from Mom? Would she see herself in me?

Today is Mom’s birthday, my paternal grandmother, the calm, smooth-tempered Eva Nora. How is it already 14 years since she passed?

I take from Mom: in my face, in my hands, and in my temperament. She had a tranquility, a stillness, a quiet peace. And I have, my whole life, been known for that kind of calm, smooth-tempered-ness. People who know me mostly these last few years may be surprised to read that. Me, ever-angry Stacie, known for her calm, even temper? How sway?

That was before. A lifetime ago. Back when students would tell me they couldn’t imagine me angry and hoped to never see me so. Before George Zimmerman was acquitted. Before Ferguson. Before.

And I think about Mom and what she would have to say today. Would she have been able to hold onto her slow-to-anger serenity? Or would she, like me, have come to a place where embracing her anger, sharing it around liberally, made more sense, became better self care than her ability to stay calm?

I am certain I know the answer, certain that she and I are still mirrors.



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

Brave New World, Indeed

And now you’ll all know the truth: that, while I don’t post here very often, I’m running my mouth in other spaces. I’m cross-posting a piece from Just No More that grew out of some early-morning FB writing:

Brave New World Indeed

I suspect this is just the first in a 4-year-long series of posts. We’ll see.

In solidarity and struggle,

Stacie

Because there will be no chance to say it then.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, I was murdered. I didn’t fight, didn’t grab for a weapon, didn’t mysteriously pass in my sleep, didn’t kill myself. I may have said, “Hey,” when the violence started, surprised that someone was brutalizing me. I may have said, “Hey,” again, more quietly, when I felt my life leaching out of me, surprised that it was really coming to that. I say “Hey” when something’s going on, going wrong. I don’t shout it, just say it with honest surprise. It’s not the best last word to be remembered for, but it will be mine, I am sure.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, know that whatever story the police tell you is a lie. Know that because you know me. Say, “Hey, that’s not what Stacie would do,” then go out in the street and say my name, ask for answers, find the truth.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, it is because an officer — probably white, surely male — saw my big blackness and decided my life didn’t matter. He maybe didn’t see me as human but instead as animal, as chaff, as supernatural demon, as worthy only of his violence. He saw my beautiful kinky hair as scruff, my soft, full body as too much, my big, long-fingered hands as wrong. And he crushed them, crushed everything he could out of me. Then turned and told you I did it to myself, that I was the one full of hate, that I was the one who didn’t see my life as worth living. He is lying. You must know that he is lying.

And you do know he is lying. You knew it after Sandra Bland. You know it today after Gynnya McMillen. You know.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, remember how I sound when I say “Hey.” Remember the look of puzzlement that creased my face when you heard me say it. Was it that time I was standing in Arstel Fabrics on 39th Street and a shelf of bolted wool was about to collapse on me? Was it six a.m. in Ljubljana as I stood outside a bland Soviet apartment block watching a man walk away with my suitcase? Was it on the 3 train at Kingston when I asked the conductor a question and he closed the doors and drove off, leaving me behind?

The “Hey” is real. Always. When I said it to the police officer, did he ignore my tone, ignore the confusion on my face and hear challenge, hear resistance? I don’t care. Don’t forgive him. I did not deserve death.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, I was murdered. Know that. remember me, go into the street and raise your voice, say my name, show my killers that you saw me, knew me, loved me, that my life mattered, that you will hold them accountable, that you will fight for justice.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, remember me. Know that what I always said is still true — that I wasn’t Trayvon, not Tamir, but Eleanor, as in Bumpurs. Know that it didn’t matter who I was, that my height, my size, this soft, warm brown of my skin were a fatal equation, adding up to one more body, one more hashtag. Say my name.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, reject the narrative you’re given, don’t let Fox news get away with describing me as angry and combative, use my list of grievances as the “proof” to shore up their story. Force them to see me, to admit that I was full of love, that even as I cried and called out and couldn’t process the fact of my dying, I was still holding hope, still imagining salvation, a Deus ex Machina jailhouse rescue. #If IDieInPoliceCustody, remember me.

May 13, 1985/2015*

My mind and heart are struggling with this 30-year anniversary. With the fact of the 11 lives lost on May 13th, with the fact of what happened to the people of the 6200 block of Osage Avenue in Philadelphia, but also with the clear connection to the ways we see police departments interact with — and act on — communities of color today. And Black communities in particular.

When the Philadelphia police bombed the MOVE house on May 13th 1985, I was more than 3,600 miles away, at the start of a months-long hitch through Europe. I had just left Paris, after a couple of weeks of reconnecting with teachers and friends I’d met during my junior year abroad. I’d had a good day of hitching and was settling into Bordeaux. With no radio or television, I didn’t know about the bombing until the next day when I grabbed a copy of the International Herald Tribune and an Orangina and went to find a sunny spot to enjoy both.

Sitting in a pretty park under cool springtime sun, a photo and news story tilted my entire world.

I don’t remember how many times I read that article. I don’t know how long I sat staring blankly trying and failing to process what I’d read. I sat there long enough and looked lost and distraught enough that a man approached to ask if I was okay, to ask if I was injured in some way. Eventually I clipped the article from the paper and kept it in my journal. A place marker: this is your country, this is the state of things in 1985 in your country, this is a way a local police force in your country chooses to deal with a group of Black people it doesn’t like.

Because that was the horror, that was the reason I read the article over and over. How could it be happening in 1985 in my country? I remember repeating again and again, “But it’s 1985. It’s 1985.”

And now it’s 2015. It’s 30 years later, and we see municipal police departments describing the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve as “enemies,” we see police departments armed with military equipment and perfectly comfortable using those weapons and tools on civilians, we see more and more and more Black bodies, and we see the ones we’ve lost accused of orchestrating their own deaths. Every piece of this echoes what we saw in 1985 at 6221 Osage Avenue.

In 1985, firefighters were told to “let the fire burn,” to allow the fire caused by the police bombing to burn until it spread and destroyed almost two city blocks. Today, we see police officers shoot unarmed Black people and leave them where they fall while they call their union reps or alter crime scene evidence, or just walk away. In 1985, a residential neighborhood was bombed by the police. In 2015 — perhaps in an effort to protect property and serve landlords — police gun us down in the street.

_____

White Supremacy, always the hardest worker in any room, has been busy — up from slavery, out through Reconstruction and Jim Crow, five steps ahead of the Civil Rights Movement, exploding over 6221 Osage, down through to today. White Supremacy doesn’t sleep, keeps its eyes wide open at all times. We get angry, White Supremacy takes three steps forward. We get comfortable, White Supremacy takes five. Bombing the MOVE house was horrific, but it wasn’t enough. White Supremacy needed those snipers firing on folks trying to escape the inferno, needed to let the fire rage and take down 59 other houses to prove a point, make an example,  needed to leave that neighborhood in limbo and decay for 30 years to be sure we got the message.

I’m not saying this fight isn’t winnable. No. I’m saying we can’t get comfortable, we have to be as vigilant as White Supremacy, keep our eyes wide open, keep watch on all the doors and windows.

White Supremacy wanted the Philadelphia Bombing to teach us a lesson. Thirty years later, we are making clear that we’ve learned a lesson. Not the one implicit bias, internalized racial hatred, and White Supremacy would have had us learn, however. Thirty years later, we are calling bullshit on the lies and the violence. We are creating  a Movement for Black Lives, and we aren’t sitting down and shutting up when white people get their feelings hurt or are forced to examine their motives, their privilege, their dismissal of our deaths.

In 1985, I didn’t know what to do with the pain of the Philadelphia Bombing other than grieve in silence. In 2015, my pen is firmly in my hand. I grieve, but I am no longer silent.

__________
* I suppose it is too much to expect Google’s doodle for this day to be #BlackLivesMatter. But perhaps it’s fitting that the doodle honors the woman who discovered the earth’s core. The issue of state violence against Black bodies is definitely at the core of who we are as a nation.

What can the matter be?

Here is a thing. There’s been a lot of commentary on my FB feed today about Baltimore. Tonight, a friend posted a great note about her privilege as a white woman and the things she’s able to do without fear of rousing the suspicions or violence of police. Another woman — a friend? a co-worker? — commented, “Not all cops behave in the same manner.” I responded to my friend’s post and then in parentheses mentioned to the other woman that I wasn’t sure what point she wanted to make. That was all I said. I bit back the first thoughts I had. I wanted to leave her some room to help me understand. Instead, she came back with: @Stacie: “Not all cops behave in the same manner.”

Seriously? I tried to act as if I couldn’t see you the first time, but this? Oh, I see you just fine. My response: “Yes, M_____. I read your comment. Twice now. What point, in relationship to K____’s point, are you trying to make?”

Dig me, making a halfway attempt to stay level-headed, skating on the inside edge of my politeness. Because really, your response is to just repeat your nonsense as if I was too dense to understand it the first time, or that perhaps I can’t read well or lack sufficient comprehension skills? Right. But I kept it gentle, still wanting to give this woman a chance to say something that has some meaning, that maybe offers a window into another mindset, that moves this painful conversation forward. Because really, she could have meant any number of things, many of which could have been not at all problematic or derailing. So of course it makes sense to give her a chance to say any of that.

Her response:

I’m not really interested in communicating with you unless we do so over coffee. We don’t know each other, so perhaps it’s best we meet and chat. I really don’t think I want to have a long discussion behind my computer. Things always get lost in translation. We may agree, we may disagree, but via a Facebook post I may be misunderstood and so could you. Good night!

Right.

So yes, she’s 100% correct: we don’t know each other, and these conversations are charged even among friends, and having them anonymously online is neither easy nor ideal. But you know what? If that’s the way you feel, why are you commenting on such a difficult subject from “behind your computer” in the first place? You commented because you a) thought you could put something out there and just leave it and no one would call you on your mess, or b) because you were hoping for someone to agree with you and push back against K____’s nicely-stated point about white privilege and the myth of a post-racial society. Instead you got me, the dreaded option c: Completely seeing the mess, Calling you out, Cordially asking you to explain yourself.

And then you’re suddenly uninterested in talking online. Suddenly you want to have coffee with a stranger so you can be understood … except, of course, that you don’t really want to have coffee with this stranger, because you end your response by closing the door, not suggesting a message or that K____ introduce us or anything that makes your coffee foolishness sound real.

(Which makes that comment read a little differently to me: “I’m  not really interested in communicating with you unless we do so over coffee. We don’t know each other, so perhaps it’s best we meet and chat. I really don’t think I want to have a long discussion behind my computer. Things always get lost in translation. We may agree, we may disagree, but via a Facebook post I may be misunderstood and so could you. Good night!” You know, or something.

Then she deleted the comment and replaced it with: “And note that many of my family members are african american and trying to make a real difference in our society.”

Really. Of course that “trying to make a real difference” is stuck in my teeth. And yeah, some of my best friends …

The words we choose, people. The words we choose. Because she’s right: things get lost in translation. Things like my patience. Lost.

A Smattering of Mattering

Again, people. Again and again, and then again. Today Baltimore. Tomorrow, anywhere. Anywhere. Is that clear yet? You insist on hastagging about “all lives,” insist that this isn’t about race, insist that the problem is the looters, the “thugs” who just make it bad for everyone. You do a lot of insisting. I’m not trying to force anything down your throat. Neither do I want your insistences forced down mine. I just want to breathe. I just want to live. You want me to walk your line, take up your call. Why can’t you shift to my side of that line, why can’t you let yourself say the words, use the tag #BlackLivesMatter? In the multiverse of this history of pain, denial, and erasure, why can’t you see that your “all lives” chant is a crushing blow, a negation, a boot on my throat? Why are you so invested in writing my narrative, in telling me what I should care about, what “really” matters? 

Because when I saw today’s poetry prompt, the first two things that came into my head were — in order: #BlackLivesMatter and “Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Johnny’s so long at the fair.”

Way too long at the fair. Left you home to start figuring out all this racial prejudice stuff on your own. Damn that Johnny.


As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is the final two-for-Tuesday prompt:

  1. Write a matter poem. Matter is what things are made of.
  2. Write an anti-matter poem. The opposite of a matter poem.

You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them?
Let’s share this craziness!

Nothing to Be “Nice” About

I went to a meeting today. A meeting full of people, some of whom I have known for a long time. A meeting in which all of those people were going to listen to a handful of speakers share information. There would be opportunities to ask questions. There would be some back and forth and some clarifying and perhaps even some obfuscating. These meetings have been going on for years. They aren’t always smooth. They aren’t always contentious. They are usually cordial.

At one point Speaker Man was sharing some information. That some people in the room weren’t thrilled with that information was clear in the sort of quiet, grumbly way that people can let you know they’re not buying what you’re selling. Audience Man raised his hand and, when called on, made a comment. Facilitator Woman stepped in and added what I’m sure she thought was a helpful, clarifying statement. Audience Man assured her that he had checked her numbers … and they were lacking. Speaker Man told Audience Man that, if he wanted to do something, he’d need to send his concern in an email:

“In a nice way. This isn’t the 60s where we beat the tables.”

There was a collective drawing back in the room and some very audible sounds of displeasure. Audience Woman 1 spoke up and voiced the same concerns as Audience Man and in much the same way. Speaker Man thanked her for her comment. Audience Woman 2 spoke up a few minutes later, much more forcefully than Audience Man or Audience Woman 1 had, lodging a complaint about the issue. Speaker Man thanked her for her comment.

I couldn’t be sure how others were feeling about what we’d just seen, but I was angry. For Speaker Man to attempt to shut Audience Man down with that scolding comment wasn’t okay. Silencing people, maybe especially in a forum that’s supposed to be open and collegial, isn’t okay.  Maybe that was why people drew back after Speaker Man’s comment. Maybe that was the cause of those audible sounds of displeasure.

But maybe, the “why” was that Audience Man was the only Black person in that exchange. That was certainly the trouble spot for me. White Speaker Man had no problem hearing dissent from White Audience Woman 1 or White Audience Woman 2. But when Black Audience Man spoke up, he had to be slapped down.

I’m going to give Audience Man a name: Edward.

Silencing Edward was about shutting down a voice of dissent. Of course it was. But the “In a nice  way,” was about policing Black anger. To say that the perfectly professional way Edward had expressed himself wasn’t “nice,” felt like a slap, like code to tell us that Edward wasn’t nice, wasn’t polite, respectful, deferential, aware of his place. So Speaker Man needed to put Edward in his place. If he had done the same with both white women who spoke, I’d still be angry, still be offended, but for different reasons. But the white women who spoke up were met with no censure, no request that they speak “nicely” — that indication of the need to learn how to behave was reserved for Edward alone.

I was surprised and not surprised. Although I have known Speaker Man for years, he isn’t someone I know well enough to have formed any kind of opinion as to his feelings about or skill in interacting with people who aren’t white. I know he has met me on numerous occasions and has often confused me with another Black woman who works in our field (and looks not even a bit like me). It would not have occurred to me that he would be someone who a) would automatically visualize a black man as angry or aggressive or b) be tone deaf enough to say things out loud that would make that perception clear to others.

We were in a professional setting, a setting in which Edward has standing, in which he meets regularly with these colleagues. We know him to be smart, fair-minded, passionate about his work, and a skilled advocate for the people he serves. It’s unlikely that any of us will now think less of Edward or differently about him because of this microaggressive comment.

But …

As Gazi Kodzo said in his excellent video about Giuliana Rancic and Zendaya’s hair, an apology means nothing — and in this case, there was no apology, and I doubt there will be one. An apology means nothing because the damage is done. Now, when intelligent, caring Edward speaks, it’s more likely there will be people in the room who question whether he sounds too angry, whether he is speaking respectfully (nicely). How much will this casual undercutting impact the relationships he has with his colleagues?

_____

After the Pantaleo grand jury chose not to indict, I began writing, began to be more vocal in my anger, my frustration, my distress. A few weeks ago, a friend asked if I’d had more negative experiences centered on race since that failure to indict. And she was surprised when I told her no. “But it seems like every day you have some ugly experience about race,” she said.

In fact, it doesn’t just seem that way, it is that way. Every day there is some ugly reminder of the way race is an issue in this country. But this isn’t true because a jury on Staten Island didn’t think Eric Garner deserved to have his murderer charged with his killing. This has always been true. The only thing that has changed is that now I am drawing attention to the ugliness regularly, rather than only when my pain reaches critical mass.

Still, I don’t share every ugly moment. If I did, I could be on this blog several times a week. There would be days when I was posting six, seven, fifteen times. This stuff — these tiny moments that are born of a history of hatred, denial, and devaluation happen all. the. time. ALL. THE. TIME.

Edward will move on from this morning’s true-colors moment. He may be so skilled that he was able to move on from it immediately. I find ways to move on, too. If I couldn’t, I would have lost my mind years ago.

Edward will move on, but why does he have to? Why does he have to face moments like this? Why has he had to face so many of them that he has learned how to let them wash over him, that he was able to maintain his composure this morning? When will it stop?


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014