As we wrap up this terrible week and weekend some final thoughts before I get my black ass back to work tomorrow to fight fictional demons instead of feeling powerless against the real ones —
Although he wasn’t by any means a close personal friend, the death of Robin Williams affected by greatly. Working with him and David Duchovny on the film House of D was a privilege and seeing how he treated everyone he encountered regardless of race, class, gender or orientation remains a hopeful reminder that genuine kindness and empathy does exist in the world. Whatever the ultimate reasons for his decision to take his own life I pray for him, his family and all who suffer from the unrelenting grasp of depression and substance abuse. By shining his light on us all for the period of time he did, I am 100% certain that Robin left this world a better place than he entered it with a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.
That said, if we spent even a fraction of the time given to the tributes about Robin and the late Lauren Bacall also remembering the lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford or Dante Parker (the 5 unarmed black men killed by police just in the past month) or honestly looked at the data about how often police shoot unarmed black men and women in this country we would all hang our collective heads in shame.
In the midst of thousands upon thousands of peaceful protesters who came out demanding answers and marching for justice with the powerful and heartbreaking refrain Hands Up. Don’t Shoot. the actions of a small few in Ferguson (many of whom were anarchists that intentionally came into the city to stir up trouble and perhaps a few others from the community who had simply reached their breaking point in the face of racial, economic and social injustice) gave the white power structure the cover to quickly change the narrative to one about the violence in the city (in reality almost entirely perpetrated by the militarized police rather than the demonstrators) instead of the murder of an unarmed teenager by a cop who “never meant for this to happen" (and don’t even get me started on that fuckery which should instead read "a cop who never meant to be held accountable").
In this way, a PROTEST became a RIOT. Images of demonstrators THROWING BACK tear gas canisters launched at them became stories of rioters throwing molotov cocktails AT THE POLICE (and yes I am aware of media reports showing that molotov cocktails were in fact used by protesters in some instances but not in the way that it was ultimately spun). And the police released incendiary and ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT information about Michael Brown that the media lapped up because it reinforced the all too familiar trope that “the violent black dude was a thug who got what he deserved”.
Black victims are regularly eyed with suspicion and contempt (and ultimately deemed responsible for what happened to them) while the media too often generates headlines that exhibit an air of disbelief at an alleged white killer’s supposed actions.
Even in our outrage at what happened at this week and the necessity for our voices to be heard so this story is not swept under the rug, we all know something like this will happen again. And again. And again.
Until each of us (black, white, brown, etc) demands accountability from our elected officials we will get the country we deserve. Tweeting is not enough. Feeling bad is not enough. Acting like we’re overreacting and it can’t really be that bad makes you an accessory after the fact (not to mention an asshole).
Which is why, as the GIF above shows, I’m giving America a down vote.
So how can we stop feeling powerless? What can we actually do?
Honestly, there are people much smarter than me who can do a better job of answering that question.
But trying to answer that question for myself is a large part of why I do what I do for a living. Because representation matters. Because being in control of our own stories empowers us to show a wide range of depictions of blackness and “otherness” (shockingly, not only do we not all LOOK ALIKE but we also don’t all THINK ALIKE) that are far more interesting than what we’ve been spoon fed in the past. I’m the first to admit that we’ve still got A LONG WAY TO GO and that’s where you all come in.
Although my engagement in fandom is embraced by some and side-eyed by others, these spaces of interaction may in fact play one of the most significant roles in the future of media and representation as we know it. At the very least it will create a future generation of professional storytellers (and social justice advocates) who were raised in the trenches of Live Journal, Tumblr, ao3 and other platforms currently in use or yet to be created.
I know this is your turf and even though there are times some of you wish I’d go away I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to interact with you here.
Together, we can make a difference.
Epistemic Violence, Erasure and and The Value Of Black Life
Above I tweeted about the continued epistemic violence and erasure that happens when Black deaths are used as memes, tropes and metaphors to center non-Black lives while living breathing Black people are harmed, gaslighted, degraded, abused and executed, and told that we do not experience the very same oppression that people use to center anyone else. This comes from both Whites and non-Black people of colour, regularly. Just as settler colonialism is inherent in the foundation of this country, so is anti-Blackness. So State violence occurring here does not have to mirror any other place to be real when this violence has centuries of history in the U.S. and when Black people are dying right now. Not metaphorically. Really dying right now.
In my first tweet I mentioned “Black criminals” because one, criminality is inferred on Black bodies regardless of validity—it was inferred on Michael Brown regardless of it being false and was instead motived by anti-Blackness and racism,—and two, thinking along the lines of Angela Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete?, I am not supportive of dehumanization even within incarceration and I question the existing structure of the Prison Industrial Complex.
If Black life is only valuable insofar as the oppression can be separated from the people to highlight someone else’s experience while the same Black people are degraded, then this “value” is actually violence. There are ways to easily contextualize and even examine similarities and differences in the experiences of non-Black people and Black people without anti-Blackness. It is because of anti-Blackness that so few non-Black people ever try to.
This is not about Black people “owning” oppression. It’s about specific anti-Blackness as oppression literally not mattering whatsoever to so many people unless it makes for good click bait to center something/someone else in a non-intersectional and straight up anti-Black way or to use as “symbolic” oppression and death to center non-Black lives deemed “more valuable” than Black ones. This is not okay. (And it is still not okay to derail protest against extrajudicial execution, State violence and Constitutional infringement with intraracial crime among civilians, what every race experiences [even as only Black people are pathologized with having intraracial civilian crime and then dehumanized by the suggestion that we don’t care], or with the politics of respectability.)
"They are comparing Ferguson to war zones outside the US because this doesn’t seem like home. Certainly not the home they know. They can’t fathom it happening in their country. No my friends, this is America. This is your country. This is what it has always been. Violence committed against Black people is as American as apple pie." - atane
When people say Ferguson, MO in America “looks like a war zone” without acknowledging America IS a war against Black people because of anti-Blackness, they engage in erasure. Erasure is violence. Erasure is antithetical to solidarity.
(R.I.P. Michael Brown. Love to his mother Lesley McSpadden, his family and his community under attack by State violence. Love to all of the Black people/families who faced and will face this violence and to Black people who know the oppression we face and our lives themselves aren’t just ideas for comparison and consumption and deserve better than epistemic violence and erasure.)