Devon Hamilton

Devon is a Posse scholar from Leimert Park, Los Angeles. He completed his undergraduate degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His interests include food security, social justice, edible and natural landscaping, education, and various other matters that collectively contribute to the improvement of our personal and communal mental, physical, and spiritual health. He recognizes our current food system’s capacity to drastically shape our communities and acknowledges its power both as a tool of oppression and empowerment. With this in mind, he intends to pursue a career that further empowers people through the facilitation of progressive communal conversations around the growth and consumption of food.

Details

Location: Madison, WI, United States

Campus: University of Wisconsin, Madison - Madison, WI

Fellowship Class Year: 2013

Blueprint: Changing Communities by Changing Consumption Habits

Devon believes food can be a catalyst for social change. Food educates, celebrates and builds community, and it drives our daily actions. If we are what we eat and our communities are only as strong as the individuals who compose it, our communities are largely shaped by our individual consumption habits. Underrepresented urban populations are often targets of inaccessible nutritious food sources, ensuing that they are plagued with expensive health issues and malnutrition. However, too much power is granted to food distributers and fast food restaurants that take advantage of cheap food production, and its time people become more creative about what they eat, innovative about how they cultivate it, and constructive by engaging in dialogues about consumption. This can be accomplished in part by providing our neighborhoods with colorful fruits and vegetables and practicing entomophagy, the consumption of insects. Insects are considered high quality, inexpensive, sustainable protein sources. By converting segments of lawns, roof tops, and vacant lots into gardens and becoming comfortable with consuming/cultivating insects, communities can begin to take back their neighborhoods and tackle the many obstacles they face.

Devon Hamilton's Blog Posts

Decriminalize Black Bodies Action Recap

Decriminalize Black Bodies Action Recap

A number of studies recognize that Black and Brown people in most cases abuse substances at disproportionately lower rates than their White counterparts. However, people of color are still statistically more likely to be judged upon appearance, searched for substances, and charged more often and severely, among many other discrepancies.

Whether evidenced through the changes White communities suddenly seek in their demand to receive treatment (not incarceration) for the most recent epidemic of heroin addiction, or one of President Nixon’s top advisor’s confessions about the true intentions of the War on Drugs, it’s unquestionable that this initiative has deep roots in slavery and targets people of color. Over the past two months, Black students, (including myslef) from campuses across the nation organized a national day of action via social media to address how the War on Drugs manifests in higher education spaces.  Hashtags such as #HIGHEReducation and #BlackUnited were used to post pictures across social media of the very places on our respective campuses where our White counterparts abuse substances regularly with little to no repercussions.

What we intended on highlighting was not only the discrepancies in who these policies target, but  also how certain drugs are criminalized over others. Below are some of the images, posts, and actions students participated in this past 4/20.

What we intended on highlighting was not only the discrepancies in who these policies target, but also how certain drugs are criminalized over others. Below are some of the images, posts, and actions students participated in this past 4/20.


 

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Helen C. White, the 24 hour library on the UW Madison campus known for late nights and early mornings spent working diligently on semester long projects students feverishly finished in a matter of hours.

“Many cases of these all nighters and increased abilities to focus can be attributed to students using prescription “study drugs” like Adderall and Ritalin. Studies have shown that in higher education spaces, these are substances used excessively more by White students than Black, Latino, or any other group of students. In my five years on this campus, I have yet to see or read anything about a [White or Black] student being judged, accused, or arrested for the abuse of such substances, and rarely have I heard of an arrest made for the dealing of such drugs.

Prescription drug usage in this context, and most others, are not perpetuated primarily by Black and Brown people and are not as heavily criminalized.This is just one of the discrepancies we take note of when we declare that the War on Drugs is a war on Black and Brown bodies.

#TheRealUW #HIGHEReducation #BlackUnited”

-Student at the University of Wisconsin Madison


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“The WW Hagerty Library is a location on Drexel’s campus in which white students participate in substance abuse known as ‘study drugs’ and no repercussions are taken. @drexelbac is fed up with this war on blacks being masked as a war on drugs. Today we took action and conducted a peaceful protest against the war on blacks, mass incarceration, and police brutality! #blackunited #HIGHEReducation”

-Student at Drexel University


 

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A demonstration by students at the University of California Irvine


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“This 4/20 I stand for the Decriminalization of Black Bodies; A rejection of the War on Drugs State St.

 A plethora of gift shops, food stops, and crowded bars.

Always ringing with the echo of the drunken white men who yelled “Go home niggers!” as we peacefully marched in solidarity with Mizzou.

Police stood close by, protecting the community from our Black.

The street lights of State St protect the white majority from getting arrested for being dangerously and aggressively drunk.

The police shuffle their feet as underage white students stumble back and forth on any given night.

The War on Drugs averts its eyes from the crimes because the abusers are not dark enough to be criminal. #BlackUnited

#ItIsOurDutyToWin”

-Student at the University of Wisconsin Madison


“My white students and I made many 4/20 jokes today. Sure, it’s light-hearted, because smoking weed is something many white college students do with impunity — and they should be allowed to freely do so. But, for my non-white students, it is no joke; it is a symbol of their incarceration and their families’ incarceration. Given UWPD’s recent actions, my black students are right to fear talking about weed rather than joining the jokes. The police have sent their message: my classroom is not a safe space and I, the teacher, have no authority. The police can take them for non-violent charges whenever they want.

So, this 4/20, for those of you who like to, I hope you got to smoke some weed. And I hope for the future, others get to join you without fear of incarceration #‎HIGHEReducation‬ #‎BlackUnited‬ #‎YellowPerilSupportsBlackPower‬

-TA from the University of Wisconsin Madison

Ubuntu: Challenging How We Define Self-Care

For those of us who experience structural and institutional violence, many have embraced the concept of using self-love and self-care as an instrument of resistance in the face of injustice. Today, I’d like to challenge a part of that notion. More specifically, I’d like to challenge how we define “self” and expand thinking on the ways we hold healing spaces.

 

Firstly, I’d like to make it clear that I wholeheartedly believe that self-love is one of the most radical and necessary forms of resistance we as people of color can practice, and that self-care is essential to the quality, effectiveness, and sustainability of the agendas we push. If we are hurting or are unhealthy ourselves, it should be no surprise that our work will reflect that. For organizers, or for really anyone working their ass off to make a living, burning out is a harsh reality. Speaking from an organizing perspective, burnouts occur when someone uses their own body like an allocable resource; like a reserve that can be tapped into and drained when necessary. It’s when you calculate the minimal amount of sleep you can realistically get in order to get work done. It’s when you skip meals for a few days because the action you’re helping organize really needed an extra fifty dollars to run smoothly. It’s when your body physically changes because of the anxiety, lack of exercise, depression, and countless other factors you’re facing.

 

Personally, I’m all too familiar with burnout. About a year ago, nearing the height of the Ferguson protests, I dropped out of school and fled home to LA for a year after physically and mentally breaking down. When I arrived home, fellow organizers, friends, and family all advised me to practice self-care by removing myself from the actions going on back in school, in my neighborhood, and elsewhere – and for once I listened. Though I couldn’t ignore the news and occasionally observed an action or two, I spent most of my days remodeling bathrooms, taking classes, driving my sister to and from school, and sleeping a lot.

 

I was doing everything right. Eating better, exercising, exploring interests of mine I never had the time to back in school, and spending time with loved ones. For once, I was doing things for myself – and it was killing me. In this moment, I felt extremely disconnected from a substantial piece of my identity, which during my many low points, contributed to my steep spiral downwards. Collectively pushing away the communities, causes, and issues I cared so deeply about in an effort to heal hurt me more than I could imagine. Though it was difficult to continue practicing something that seemed to hurt more than help, I was confident in the assurance of my peers that it was just a matter of time, and kept it up. It was only through a class I was auditing in Claremont that I was introduced to the concept of Ubuntu by Professor Sidney J. Lemelle, and then things began to click.

 

Ubuntu is an old South African philosophy that goes by many definitions centered on various principles around the notions of community and sharing. Roughly translated, it is an interpretation of humanity, proclaiming that “I am, because you are,” – that my humanness, my happiness, my success, is directly tied to others and cannot truly exist without them. By no means am I an expert in its definition, as I can only speak to my interpretation of it, nor is it my intent to make this yet another trendy, fetishization of the ancient principles of Brown people. What I can speak on, though, is how this framework has helped define parts of my identity I once deeply resented and how it remains relevant to many of us who where taught to practice self-care in isolation.

Self-care can look very different to different folks, and personally, I’ve had trouble defining my own understanding due to the difference between how others interpret healing and how I define my own happiness. In the many forms I’ve seen people practice self-care, I’ve observed a general trend of people believing that they must process through their struggles in solitude, or removed from their communities – something I was told and practiced during my time home. Though I do recognize the importance of dealing with one’s internal struggles initially on their own and acknowledge that to many people, this strategy of solitude works best for them, I am a firm believer that if we can grow together, in some capacity we can find ways to heal together as well.

 

With that being said, I challenge folks to engage in self-care practices that enable your community to heal and improve alongside you, a core principle of Ubuntu. Though self-reflection and solitude are both important throughout your respective processes, don’t let it be your only steps, and seek ways to help lift others who need it as much as you. I’m just a twenty-two-year-old kid learning along every step of the way myself, but this is a framework that has helped me grow and work through my troubles and identify who and how to lift others going through similar struggles. I used to hate myself for returning to the same toxic environments that broke me. This philosophy, however, helped me recognize that my happiness cannot exist without the presence of my community, allowing me to understand and forgive myself for returning home and for my inability to stop building and organizing.

 

Depression and other mental health issues plague our communities, and it’s my belief that we treat them as isolated incidents and issues. I had to go through it myself to understand that this is not just my struggle. Through Ubuntu, I’ve learned to define “self” through my community, and to practice self-care accordingly. There’s too many of us going through the same struggle to handle these matters alone, and too much love to spread to keep it to ourselves.

Much love.

Hood Politics: The Fetishization of Compton (Black Death)

For those in much need of a reminder, let me begin with this disclaimer:

Compton is a real place.

It exists today and will be there tomorrow. Real people with real stories live in this city that author it’s living history. World renowned artists, athletes, politicians, organizers, authors, actors, beautiful people and possibly your next president all reside within this city. I’m making a point of what I hope to be the obvious because there seems to be two distinctly different interpretations of Compton that we’ve come to acknowledge in these United States. The first being the largely undiscussed city of Compton, CA located in lovely South Central Los Angeles. The second, and rather problematic interpretation, is a fantasy world that seems to exist largely in the minds of white folks. It projects itself solely within the confines of spaces like fraternity houses, suburbs, bars, and clubs, and goes by many names and expressions ranging from Wiscompton to “Southside” Malibu. This world is largely shaped by the glorification of life in cities like Compton and embodies the fascination white America has with the circumstances imposed upon people of color.

Residents of this imaginary world are often identified by, but not limited to, the following expressions and actions:

 

“What’s gucci my n—-!”

*High fives followed by awkward daps and chest-bumps*

Excessive use of the word “homie” or “dawg”

Claims he/she/they are from the Southside of [enter white suburb]

*That awkward moment when someone shakes another’s dap*

Putting “B” in front of every word…even those that don’t start with “C”

Rocking clothes only appropriate in an early 2000 Cash Money music video

The continued use of the word “ghetto”

 

These and other expressions can personally trigger the hell out of me because I know from where they are derived. White America has both an obsessive fascination and utter fear of all things considered “hood.” Being that Compton’s pop-culture identity is almost exclusively known for its gang culture, in many ways it’s become the image of their cultural misconceptions and often among the first place that comes to mind when they think of the hood. With a simple twist of their fingers and tilt of their cap, white folks can exoticize the danger of blackness in the United States while simultaneously demonizing abstractions of identities like my own. Much like a Halloween costume, it’s fun to be Black, but only for a few hours out of the day. However, these nights, like a bad joke, have ceased to end and what we have left is a year round celebration of a trademarked, pimped out parody of Compton that has nothing to do with the physical city and its people, and everything to do with the fetishization of danger and Black death.

I witness this regularly at the University of Wisconsin Madison, where I attend school. The Urban Dictionary defines Wiscompton  as, “Where da homies be at. Located between Chi-town and Canadia.” Used in sentence: “Where u at n–? I be frontin wiscompton holmes.” Here, the home of what some call the Wiscompton School of Bidness, legendary basketball coach, Bo Ryan can even twist his fingers absolved of judgment and throw up what’s problematically known as the “Dirty Dub.”

Bo Ryan throwing up the “Dirty Dub."

Bo Ryan throwing up the “Dirty Dub.”

 

During these past five years on campus, I’ve been called racial slurs, only to have their racism excused on the amount of alcohol they’ve consumed. Others have reached in my car, and some even tried to open my door, simply so they could dap me up for reasons I can only assume to be my Blackness. My sentiments when confronted with forced efforts of validation and mimicry from these folks looks a lot like this, as I often find myself too exhausted to correct their ignorance and am forced to remove myself for my own self-care. Some days I am able to avoid these spaces. Other’s I am not.
Often, I find myself stumbling across sites like this:

Seen in a neighborhood deceitfully known as "The Sophomore Slums"

Seen in a neighborhood deceitfully known as “The Sophomore Slums”

 

Other days, like this:

Seen around the corner of my house

Seen around the corner of my house

Why else would someone broadcast to the world in large greek letters that they live in a trap house? Or pay an additional $30 every year to “pimp” their licence plate? They hear about the struggle and find it entertaining. They want to claim Chicago, dress Brooklyn, and speak Compton, so long as they don’t have to live it. In the darkness of the night, we watch them say n—-, freestyle rap, drink 40ozs, and rock Jerseys, gold, and Tims throughout the night, only to remove their masks and reclaim their privilege come sunrise. They’ll religiously recite Trap Queen and Future lyrics but won’t rep a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. I mean, why would they? Black death fits so well into the lyrics, news clips, and policies so many of them support, and sells just as well as modern day slavery (Black incarceration).

When I see folks who’re obviously not from Compton proudly flaunting its name around, I don’t interpret it as an appreciation of the city. If the extent of their knowledge about Compton doesn’t exceed past its pop-culture identity, then the only significance those seven letters means to their limited understanding is the city’s gang culture. This is where the intent of their imitation lies; in the exoticism and risk of it all. White folks will dress and act like Black people, profit from their mimicry in television, movies, clothing, and music sales, and will turn their back to support policies that disproportionately kill people of color, accumulate privilege, and perpetuate slave labor. Black death has always generated profit in this country and will continue to do so as long as cities like Compton are fetishized and misrepresented.

Blackness is not something one can wear like a shirt, and how we define ourselves does not belong in anyone mouths but our own. If I can’t be myself because my existence is supposedly threatening to you, then what gives you the right – or the want – to crudely imitate me. Coming from a mixed Black kid from Leimert Park, Los Angeles [Crenshaw and King to be exact] with family from Compton and a deep love for hip hop, in my twenty two years of existence, I have never repped Compton in any sort of capacity out of a respect for its people and culture. Even with its many direct influences on my upbringing through family and friends, the amount of black in my wardrobe, and the hip hop culture that influenced my surroundings and perceptions, I know better.

With that being said, when did it become acceptable for a person of any culture from any city other than Compton to wear those seven letters? You don’t just rock a Vietnam Veteran’s cap because it’s cool and vintage. For similar reasons, it’s disrespectful and destructive to claim a unique experience that isn’t yours. Consider asking yourself if you would wear your bright red bandana or “Straight Outta Wiscompton” t-shirt on Brazil and Wilmington. When Dr. Dre started the “Straight Outta Somewhere” promotion, I’m sure Baraboo, Wisconsin wasn’t his intended audience.

Compton, or any other city like it, is not a fashion statement. It’s a city with an immeasurable amount of character and pride, key to the identity of thousands of people who aren’t you. When you remove or are ignorant to the true essence of a city like Compton and decide to represent it with no relationship to it whatsoever, you perpetuate a destructive fixation with glamorizing poverty, death, and an exclusive struggle unique to Black and Brown people.

Please resist the urge to appropriate images of Compton – or any city or culture like it – the next time you choose your Halloween costume, want to dress up for a party, or are binge buying things you don’t need on amazon. We can very much do without your bigotry.
Much Love

Masculinity as a Threat to Equity

Masculinity is so damn fragile, y’all. I mean, truly, just delicate. But for how brittle it is, it’s central to how our society operates – it dictates who is respected and is deemed respectable, and determines who succeeds and who is deemed successful.

Michael Kimmel makes a great note in his article Masculinity as Homophobia in describing what he calls the Marketplace Man; a white, heterosexual male whose identity is largely rooted in his success in the capitalistic market and his accumulation of power and status. Some of the key defining principles of hegemonic masculinity as it relates to our capitalistic society are those that encompass identities that are materialistic, independent, competitive, egocentric, and power driven.

Though his identity is developed in his assertion of independence, his status is built and sustained upon the public approval of his peers. His success is steeped in capitalism, therefore it is overt and oppressive. Although the constructs that define his masculinity are frail, its execution can be dominating, offensive, and often deadly. How this execution manifests can be direct or indirect, violent or passive, but always present. For those of any gender who identify as non-White, non-heterosexual, or any other identity that is unreflective of the Marketplace Man, it’s exceedingly difficult to navigate success without confronting discrimination.

Through this lens, all other definitions of masculinity (as well as other identities that do not fit or assimilate to his own), are often treated as inferior and certain to be targeted and exploited in his assertion of power. This concept transcends gender, and among other things affects class, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Though how often we observe it is at our own personal discretion, it can be witnessed through media outlets daily. The Marketplace Man and individuals perpetuating this identity are present in our politics, business, education, and everyday conversations.

Below are instances where hyper-masculinity has obstructed justice in some form, and explanations as to how these perceptions are maintained and preserved. Though there are many different lenses and identities that contribute to these prejudices, this post will specifically outline the role masculinity plays in these instances.

 

Humanizing White Terrorists

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Planned Parenthood Gunman, Robert Dear

Describing individuals with words such as misunderstood, alienated, and kind are exclusive to the white men and the occasional women who commit acts of terror, while we describe Black and Brown men and women who do much less as thugs, drug addicts, and criminals. Somehow, our society is capable of seeing the humanity in the 57 year old murderer Robert Dear, but not the humanity in the 17 year old victim Laquan McDonald. This empathy with white terrorism is solely a defense used to justify the anger and xenophobia that reside in Dear. Society will protect those who embody hegemonic masculinity, and vilify those who will not to sustain the status quo. Through this lens, Dear’s beliefs weren’t wrong, but his anger was not passive enough. Meanwhile, McDonald will never escape the conviction of guilt, even in his death, because he is unreflective of the Marketplace Man.

 

Tone Policing

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Lamon Reccord peacefully protesting the death of Laquan McDonald

Tone policing is near exclusive to Black and Brown bodies and reinforces the fear of challenging authority. The moment we find someone’s tone more offensive than the unjust murder of a child, we give into dangerous rhetoric that prioritizes the regulation of our emotion and power over the value of human life. It is a mechanism that is dismissive of anguish, obstructive of passion, and discouraging of power. While white men are absolved of judgment of their aggressive mourning of the loss of the Christmas spirit in a Starbucks coffee cup, Black and Brown people cannot mourn the loss of our mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends without facing scrutiny for our grief. It is this principle that devalues the life of historically marginalized folks, and subdues the authority of our emotion – where so much of our power lies. Because we do not embody this image of masculinity, our anger will not be justified.

 

Dismissing the Non-Male Voice

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Scarlett Johansson at an Avengers cast interview

In an effort to project the dominant male perspective, society (steeped in hegemonic masculinity) has a habit of both directly and indirectly silencing women, transgender, and gender nonconforming people from discussing their truths and opinions. Indirectly, it reveals itself in instances where reporters limit questions and discussions of fascinating women, including Scarlett Johansson, Michelle Obama, and Serena Williams. “What did she wear?” is often discussed before “What did she say?,” further entangling the value of their voice with their physique and appearance. This can also be observed in the direct persecution and often disregard of non-male identities in the political sphere when a point is only validated by the masses when there is a male cosign, or when a woman is out-barked by a male figure when questioning his authority or beliefs. This can be witnessed in this video here of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards defending her organization at a hearing in the Republican controlled House.

 

Violence as a Response to Threatened Entitlement

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Shooter Elliot Rodger’s “Retribution” video

Studies have revealed that White supremacy is the origin of a large majority of the ever-rising domestic terror threats. Similar findings disclose that white men are almost exclusively responsible for mass shootings in the United States. Though these terrorist’s motives differ in the details, their hyper-masculine identities is one of their many unwavering similarities. Whether it be Elliot Rodger’s intent to punish women who reject him and other more sexually active men, Dylann Storm’s racist massacre in his claim that Blacks disproportionately rape white women, or Wade Michael Page’s prejudice act of terror against people of the Sikh faith in their temple, they and dozens of others are the extreme examples of a very common mindset in the Marketplace Man that resorts to violence when their false entitlement is unmet.

 

Moving Forward

Capitalism in its current form cannot be administered equitably nor can it sustain itself without the assertion of masculine values, making the liberation of people that hold historically marginalized identities a direct threat to the success of the Marketplace Man. When we discuss these incompatible values struggling to occupy the same space, rarely do we call out the root cause of this consequential denial of justice by name.  We use language like greed, prejudice, privilege, and supremacy to define it, yet neglect to acknowledge how each of these problematic values bolster the same structures that uphold the concept of masculinity and its role in the homogeneous dispersal of power.

 

Let’s call oppression for what it is by its root, and continue to identify how masculinity maintains its many forms of obstructing equity and justice.

 

Much love.

How to Not Perpetuate Racism and Be a Decent Human Being

Late this October, a South Carolina high school fired a white in-school resource officer named Ben Fields for using excessive force against a Black female student. In a widely circulated video, Fields can be seen grabbing the student’s neck, slamming her to the floor, and dragging her across the room — all because she allegedly refused to turn over her cell phone. Though there are many issues at play in this altercation, whether it be the systemic issue of the teacher’s decision to rely on a police officer to resolve a non-disruptive dispute, or the utter lack of empathy for this young woman and her difficult situation, I’d like to focus in on one particular critique: the disturbing amount of support this and other officers receive when unlawfully assaulting minors, men, and women — a disproportionate amount of whom being people of color.

The rhetoric used to defend this grown man’s violent assault against a minor is about as new as the occurrence of these incidents themselves. This impulse to exonerate law enforcement officers actions despite tangible evidence of racial bias and excessive force is commonplace in how we discuss these issues and inequitable in its distribution to all those affected. With that being said, I’ve whipped up a resource, a check-list of some sorts, both for anyone foolish enough to use this rhetoric and to those tired of hearing it. With that, I present to you…

How to Not Perpetuate Racism and be a Decent Human Being For Dummies, Volume 1 of however many more it takes for y’all to get it.

In this edition, we’ll be discussing the many problematic concepts used to defend police brutality against people of color. Below, I’ve listed problematic statements, appropriate response to those claims, and an example of how you might express your discontent to anyone dense enough to speak of such foolery.


“S/he should’ve followed orders.”

Oh, I didn’t know disobedience equates to deadly force. I had no idea that noncompliance permits nonexistence.

“We don’t know all the details.”

 

Ah, good one. Though, maybe your intentions aren’t that bad…so long as you’re not using ‘details’ to defend illegal chokeholds, excessive force against children, or anything terrible like that. That would be awful.

“S/he has a black [insert irrelevant acquaintance]!”

 

Is that supposed to absolve one of their actions? If that’s the case, I know lots of women! I even have a sister! Nope. Still doesn’t mean I can assault them.

 

“[Victim] was no angel.”

 

No explanation needed, just this…

 

“Let the police do their job.”

Racial profiling is in their job description. When my melanin is no longer criminalized in this country, then we can talk.

 

“Blah blah blah THUGS.”

 

No. Just…no. Please take several seats and watch this video.

 

“Not all police are bad.”

Good people can exist under oppressive institutions. Also, please feel free to substitute the word ‘police’ interchangeably with Black, brown, or whatever’s most fitting towards your personal prejudice whenever you insist on using that sentence.

 

“It’s not only White cops who do this!”

 

Systemic: done or acting according to a fixed plan or system.

Synonyms: methodical, organized, structured.

Used in a sentence, “Systemic racism is the perpetuation of racial injustice through institutions, not necessarily the color of skin of the individual practicing it.”

Examples: Don Lemon, Uncle Ruckus, David A. Clarke.

 

“The cop felt threatened.”

 

“PUT DOWN YOUR WEAPON!” *drops degree*

I get it though, I really do. It’s a dangerous job. That’s why officers have the Use of Force Continuum, you know, the standard that requires them to match the level of force potentially exerted on them. Interesting how the gun is often the first weapon drawn…

 

“The cop was following protocol.”

 

Just because you say it, doesn’t make it true.

If you ever find yourself, your friends, or the insistent anonymous commenter using any of these or similar statements to defend any forms of police brutality, please refer back to this resource. This is here to help you. We can all be decent human beings if we try hard enough, though it shouldn’t ever have to take this much effort.

Much love.

Sexual Assault is EVERYONE'S issue

Sexual Violence in Higher Ed

The Association of American Universities (AAU), an association composed of sixty-two research Universities in the U.S. and Canada, recently released the results of a sexual assault and sexual misconduct survey piloted this past Spring. Much like the reoccurring issue of gun control seen as recently as October 1st’s mass shooting in Oregon, or the reality that Black lives still don’t matter in this country, sexual assault, particularly on University campuses in this case, has become so culturally interwoven in our daily routine that we have defied to largely recognize the true destructive nature its practice embodies. So much so, that in the extensive history of sexual violence in spaces of higher education, a history seemingly entangled with the existence of such institutions, there has yet to have been a survey conducted nearly as comprehensive and uniform as the one we are presented with today.

The results of this survey unsurprisingly are rather dismal. Below are some of the key findings, quoted directly from the survey.

Who often are the victims?

  • Rates of sexual assault and misconduct are highest among undergraduate females and those identifying as transgender, genderqueer, non-conforming, questioning, and as something not listed on the survey (TGQN).
  • The incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation among female undergraduate student respondents was 23.1 percent, including 10.8 percent who experienced penetration.
  • The risk of the most serious types of nonconsensual sexual contact, due to physical force or incapacitation, decline from freshman to senior year. This decline is not as evident for other types of nonconsensual sexual contact.

How are these cases reported?

  • A relatively small percentage (e.g., 28% or less) of even the most serious incidents are reported to an organization or agency (e.g., Title IX office; law enforcement)
  • More than 50 percent of the victims of even the most serious incidents (e.g., forced penetration) say they do not report the event because they do not consider it “serious enough.”
  • A significant percentage of students say they did not report because they were “…embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult” or “…did not think anything would be done about it.”
  • What are the environments incidents like this often occur in?
  • Nonconsensual sexual contact involving drugs and alcohol constitute a significant percentage of the incidents.
  • A little less than half of the students have witnessed a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter. Among those who reported being a witness, most did not try to intervene.

Generally summed up, nearly one in four undergraduate women will experience some form of sexual assault. Of nearly a third of the incidents that are actually reported, over half of those victims do not consider the incident serious enough to report, and if alcohol is involved, nearly half of bystanders that witness a sexual encounter choose not to intervene. This has become the new normal, and it’s often executed by familiar faces. Undergraduates identified the culprit of ~90% of sexual assaults as fellow students, and graduate students identified nearly a quarter of them as faculty members.

Though these numbers are new, these stories are not. Yet, with all the preemptive measures self-proclaimed to be taken by Universities, these numbers are still overwhelmingly evident of a frightening norm among campus climates across the nation.

So what hasn’t worked? Firstly, and most concerning, there is a clear lack of attentiveness from Universities, visibly apparent in that less than half of the sixty-two Universities a part of the AAU decided not to participate in the survey. Simple orientations or education sessions about these issues are also quite ineffective, being that well over 60% of students find that sexual assault is not extremely problematic on their campus. This won’t be resolved without a clear commitment to the issue and sustainable solutions that are persistently enforced. Until clear policies are defined and imposed, positive support with resources for reporting is established, students are frequently educated on the matters, and these and other approaches are on-goingly assessed, this climate will persist.

For more information on the survey, check [here].

A Letter in Support of Marissa and Mara

A Letter in Support of Marissa and Mara

If I may briefly interject from my original post…

Though this piece is largely about the destructive nature of respectability politics, particularly in the Black community, it also is a piece on self-love through defining one’s self as an extension of their community, not simply as an individual. This past weekend, my fraternity brother and dear friend took his own life. This event has left me shattered personally and devastated the many communities he called his own and blessed with his presence. I would like to dedicate the underlying message of this post to my brother Andrew and anyone else going through a similar struggle, but more importantly, to anyone who has ever caught themselves openly condemning someone among their own community. We’ve lost too many of our brothers and sisters to depression and self-inflicted pain that could have been prevented through better communal care practices. I don’t know the state of mind my brother was in when he left this Earth, nor do many of us know the mental state which Marissa and Mara were in when they expressed their truths. The public shame and ridicule directed at these two women from everyone, including members of their own community, I’m sure was enough to push even the most stable of people to their limit. Imagine if their mental strength was fragile before their action at this event. Imagine what it’s like to have the foundation of your community ripped from beneath your feet and attempt to balance on the last corner of stability you may have. All it may take is a simple push to tip you over. We must love each other relentlessly and with vigor, even if we’re wrong, and constructively express our thoughts. There’s already enough hate expressed externally to us that it should never reflect how we direct our energy internally, because we never know when a simple “I love you” may save a brother or sister’s life, or a reflection of that hate may result in the loss of one.

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Before I speak on my appreciation of these two women, allow me to preface this letter with a lens that I believe is necessary to comprehend my perspective. It is in my experience that black folks in these united states have been disproportionately pressed into positions of hypercritical introspection and self-disdain. Whether this hate materializes through the shade of our skin, the height of our pants, the might of our laughter, or the tone of our aggression, the U.S.’s infatuation with disparaging Black lives is undoubtedly reflected in how we perceive and understand each other. We self-perpetuate these external attacks on our identity when we speak on the fallacy of black on black violence. When we condemn our vernacular as incompetent. When we choose to berate the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters on a lack of resolve rather than chastise the oppressive structures that held them behind. When we don’t allow our children to make mistakes and settle with an “I told you so” and a subsequent jail sentence.

Though this list can go on, today I’d like to speak on a more recent instance when we dismissed two women for the tone of their justified anger and ignored the truth behind their words. I’m talking about when Marissa Johnson and Mara Willford seized Bernie Sanders rally to speak for only but a moment on Black lives. It’s sickening how U.S. culture takes to either condemn or entertain themselves with Black anger. In all honesty, I fell for this condemnation myself. My initial witness of this event was short clips of two women who represent a movement with which I identify with aggressively silencing a politician whom I personally support. My first reaction was confusion and frustration. I thought, “Why didn’t these women let Bernie speak? He’s our ally. Why would they choose to disrupt a space that seems to support our cause?” I watched the heavily edited clips shown on every major media outlet, even those on more progressive pages, and made the mistake of letting their perverse coverage determine my opinion.

After some reflection and discussion following watching the raw video, I find it problematic how we as a community were so quick to denounce these women rather than take a moment to listen to their message. The conversations that followed this event did not discuss state violence and racial injustice. On the contrary, they criticized the tone of these women’s voices and questioned the effectiveness of their strategy, neglecting to ask them, “why are you angry?” Many folks even demanded an apology from these women, incessantly calling their efforts counterproductive and disrespectful, and I must ask, counterproductive and disrespectful to who? Have we become so hypercritical of the external perception of our Blackness that we must apologize to our allies? I think not, nor do I believe in apologies in this context. The truth is emotional and unpleasant, and those who speak it will reflect that unfortunate reality. You cannot call yourself an ally if you do not accept that. What I find troubling are those many who prioritize respectability over authenticity.

Respectability politics is a front that allows people to claim that two Black women truthfully calling a crowd racist is somehow more offensive than state violence. Respectability politics is a tool that only supports aggression when it’s passive, and has been used to dismiss people of color from platforms that people like Sanders have the privilege to stand on. We will not win through communicating like this. We must stand firm in our truths and recognize the necessity of aggression. Anyone who preaches Dr. King’s non-violent message out of context and ignores the militant forces that expedited and ensured our progress are misguided, and those who call these women’s message militant are mistaken . It’s through actions like Marissa and Mara’s, in addition to the collective movement, that our voices are heard and progress is made. It was their voices that pressured Sanders to take an official stance on racial justice. Their voices sparked him to hire a Black woman, specialized in Black criminal justice, to his campaign. Their voices have held Sanders accountable to the progressive agenda he preaches. Something other Black Lives Matter activists in New Hampshire were unable to do in an encounter with Hillary Clinton.

To be clear, this is not a denunciation of those organizers who spoke with Hillary. It is simply an example of how confrontational organizing can often be more effective than what’s deemed politically correct or appropriate. Not much came from the encounter with her. In fact, she ended up instructing these organizers on her opinion of what they need to do to improve the social climate, giving little concrete evidence of intention to hold herself accountable and fix her past racial injustices. She has no official platform and has made little to no mention of race, only vaguely when confronted with it. With that being said, it’s no surprise that people advocate for such passive tactics if this is the result.

There are definitely appropriate times and spaces for different methods of communication. Nonetheless, we, as people of color, absolutely cannot silence or condemn someone of our own identity for speaking our truth, no matter the manner in which our emotion is translated. That’s an internal division as damaging to our community as embracing a concept as foolish as Black on Black crime. That emotion is as necessary as any statistic, court case, or fact we speak on. Unfortunately, we don’t often have the privilege to tell our story to the masses; a story that only we have the right to tell. A story even Bernie has no entitlement to, and sometimes, it’s necessary to create our own opportunity to do so. So, the next instance one of our own speaks out in an unconventional manner, first ask yourself all the things right that are being said, and refrain from defaulting to nitpick the few points you may disagree with. Broaden the lens of what you deem appropriate and worth your breath, because if we continue to consider conventional political incorrectness as more offensive than rampant racial injustice, we will never break loose of these chains.