Antonin Scalia (1936 – 2016) – RIP

ScaliaI’m a gay man and I’m saying don’t spit or dance on Antonin Scalia’s grave. I believe in prison abolition and radical police and justice reform including being staunchly against the death penalty and I say don’t curse his name. I am black and very aware that affirmative action is still very much necessary and I say do not remember him only as an ignorant or backward bigot. I believe in every woman’s right to choose what is best for her body (as men choose every day…often against women’s will) without coercion or politicians and with the full support of a sane civil society with universal health care and I say do not write Antonin Scalia off as a religiously motivated woman-hating zealot.

I say this because, if the current antics on the Presidential campaign trail are any indication, we are headed into an astoundingly complicated time in the history of this country. We face a field of candidates still dominated by whites and men while the five states with the largest numbers of voting delegates (California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois) are already or are nearly majority people of color.[1] The Democratic Party seems poised and eager to completely devour Hillary Clinton, a product of the party and arguably one of the most qualified women and one of the most experienced politicians* in the history of Presidential politics. Black Lives Matter protestors are interrupting infrastructure, Ta-Nehesi Coates has re-mounted the call for reparations, all the while the first black President, the son of an African migrant, is presiding over some of the broadest and most aggressive sweeps and deportations of undocumented people of color in the history of the nation. In short, we are in a time of confusing, stark, sometimes lethal and always uncomfortable contrasts.

Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world. – bell hooks (killing rage: Ending Racism – 1995)

These words are our challenge today. I hear the challenge in conversation about justice reform: How do we assure peace in our communities and hold the keepers of that peace accountable without inhibiting their effectiveness? How do we assure that thieves pay for their crimes when those same thieves are stealing so they don’t starve? How do we oppose the death penalty in the same breath that we claim deep religious values and insist on total retribution for the murder of children? How do we restore the victim of rape to wholeness and peace in themselves and justify restoring the rapist to community? These seem impossible to reconcile. But if we are to listen to bell hooks, the answer must exist somewhere in our ability to affirm our differences without obscuring one another. Now more than ever, we must acknowledge the basic equity of humanity at the foundation our existence. With this acknowledgement, we might actively increase our capacity to embrace and live with difference…and work with it. We might find a way to actually stand in the same room with our ideological enemies without shouting them down or simply walking away. This is new. This is uncharted. We do not have language for it yet. I, for one, certainly don’t know what it looks like. But recalling some of Scalia’s vitriol and then watching the President offer a tribute to him while reminding us that before politics, we must take time to comfort and to mourn, might be heading in the right direction. – RIP

Watch or Read: Obama On Scalia

[1] US Census –

*No other candidate for President of the United States has been a former US Senator, United States Secretary of State, First Lady of the United States, First Lady of a US State (Arkansas), and an attorney.

Point of View

20130720_071432My word for the day is ‘perspective.’

Yesterday, President Obama did something unprecedented.  He completely personalized an issue that he didn’t have to.  Until yesterday, He was treading the road of Washington D.C. professional, political navigator…insider.  But yesterday he made a surprise statement about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.  For at least a portion of those 18 minutes, he was no longer the President of the United States, but the president of black men in America.  A risky stance when it’s open season on black men.  But this was an important step and a step that only he could take.  Black men have never had a president say “I am unapologetically one of you.”  Conservative pundits are critical of him for identifying, for reminding us that 35 years ago it could have been him who was shot by a local vigilante; for reminding us that he has had people lock car doors when he walks by, women clutch their purses when they see him…just as I and millions of black men have had happen to them as well.  But where were the criticisms when George W. Bush put in place tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (largely white men) or when he made any number of statements about ‘conservative’ values (abortion, gay rights, affirmative action) that only spoke to a specific demographic of white Christians again, largely men?  Yesterday, black men in America finally had their moment.  Deal with it.

Yesterday, there was also a wonderful program on KQED, Forum with Dave Iverson, Assessing Racial Equality and Justice in 2013 America.  His guests, Angela Glover Blackwell (PolicyLink), Eva Paterson (Equal Justice Society), and Peniel Joseph (Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Tufts University) brought about a rich conversation that highlighted both the passion and the data behind how we actually see race today in America.  The conversation between the panelists was extremely well balanced and full of great moments, including one where Angela Glover Blackwell said in response to a listener who said they were tired of the conversation about race, “I’m tired of having to come back to the same issues again, and again…but until I see progress, I’m not going to stop.”  You can listen to the conversation and view the comments here.

I’m using the word perspective today and pointing out these news items because I think it is crucial in this conversation, and as we start conversations about race that we maintain perspective.  That we realize that our personal perspective is always skewed in the direction of our personal experience.  If you have never been called a nigger in the street, you can’t understand what that feels like or what that does to your personal sense of safety.  That is the only word in the American English language that carries with it an immediate association with specifically white oppression, violence and privilege.  It is a word that no matter how much one may thing that blacks have ‘reclaimed’ it, will never be able to be anything other than a word of pure “otherization.”  It creates a barrier with its history.  In my comments on the KQED program, I reminded people who were complaining about the focus on “black/white” in the current conversation about race that our American perceptions of race are based almost entirely on the historical relationship between black and white.  You cannot have a conversation about oppression and bigotry against Asians or Latinos or Native Americans in America without talking about blacks.  Just look at the fact that the three groups I just referenced are identified by location or language; yet blacks are identified primarily by a color.  It is the total anonymizing and obliteration of a history and the complete packaging in the context of oppression that s contained in the word nigger and that is why this conversation must continue.  One can claim, Scoth-Irish ancestry, French, Chinese, Spanish, Mayan ancestry, but blacks in America can claim only a vast continent…Africa.  We can’t point to tribes or recognized ethnic groups within the African diaspora, it was erased when our humanity was erased.  When we simply became bodies that were part of the machine of America.

Although I believe that sexuality and gender oppression is the worst global issue, I believe that the lack of understanding between black and white is America’s worst issue by far.  But that is my perspective and the perspective of every other person who has lived with the fear and cultural restriction that goes with our history.  My perspective would, I’m sure be very different if I woke up every morning and never had to think about justifying my education or worrying about publicly expressing my solidarity with other black men for fear of being seen as a threat.  But I will never know that for sure.  All I can do is have compassion for your perspective and ask you to have compassion for mine.

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