Photo on 7-7-14 at 1.35 PM

A Message For Writers: Save Your Energy

Photo on 7-7-14 at 1.35 PM

The internet’s news cycle moves in waves. When news hits, there is often so much to cover over a short period of time, that topics are easily considered old before you even press the publish button. Every few weeks a celebrity dies, a political scandal unfolds, racism rears its ugly head and the world keeps spinning. We’re operating on a 24 hour news cycle. Consequently, our minds don’t have enough time to rest.

Furthermore as writers, there’s an almost never ending pressure to comment on the latest drama. We’ve been trained to be “outraged” about almost everything. There are a million voices all chiming in at once, all clamoring to be heard.  Everyone is pressured to say something or go unnoticed and nobody wants to be unnoticed.

It’s tiring. It’s a creativity drainer. Most of all it’s wasteful. Perhaps time would be better utilized focusing on issues we enjoy writing about the most.

Before your next think piece ask yourself, “Do I really care about this…right now? Do I actually have anything of substance to contribute to this conversation that needs to be said? Has enough time passed to actually have a nuanced discussion about this? Are there other writers already articulating a similar perspective as me, possibly better than I would?”

For me, these questions have resulted in NO to articles about: Tyga, Nicki Minaj vs. Taylor Swift and Black feminists defending her, Rihanna’s so called violence against women music video with Black vs. White feminists (again), anything about Riley Curry (cute but only 3 years old), and finally Bill Cosby (because the internet has this covered in great abundance, from almost every angle). There are many other subjects that I also have on pause.

I’m not saying no to these topics forever, just for right now.

After making it a practice to ask myself this series of questions, I’m glad to report that I’ve been saved from spending a lot of unnecessary time and energy on “hot topics.” Yes, I have opinions on them. However I’ve learned from experience that opinions and or critiques aren’t always worthy of an article.

Plus, I’d rather have more practice with being creative than trendy.

It may work in your favor to resist getting swept up in the fury of the interwebs. Only write about what you’re really passionate about. Your energy is better suited on work that builds towards your future, instead of trying to feed the internet beast. Because as we all know, the internet beast is never satisfied.

Release yourself from the digital hamster wheel.

We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained.” – Nikki Giovanni

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a writer, social justice advocate and the founder of Our Legaci. Learn more about her work at JessicaAnnMitchell.com.

To reach JAM, email OurLegaci@gmail.com.
Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

Delusions of Grandeur on Hillbilly Yard Signs

 

annoy-a-liberal-help-yourself-ourlegaci

I saw an interesting yard sign while traveling through the small town of Hampton, GA. It read, “Annoy A Liberal, Help Yourself.” I had just come from attending my younger brother’s funeral. And there it was, this sign lurking, greeting passers by with its smugness. I knew by the location what type of person took the time to publicize such a low minded thought. I imagine that they would consider themselves conservative, a proud southerner and most definitely a Christian.

I thought about how my mother, in all her grief, had only survived such a tragedy through the love and support of our extended family, friends, local community, and church family. My thoughts then focused on the world in a larger context. I thought about all the people in need and how much of the world would have collapsed if it weren’t for a few helping hands.

With that raggedy sign now permanently etched in my memory, I thought about poverty, violence, health care, education, life and death. All of these community oriented issues showcase the ironies of life. There is an illusion of separation in America right now. There is a belief that “those people,” whoever you consider them to be, has nothing to do with you or your life. But this is simply an illusion.

There is no, “Help yourself.” There are no, “those people.”

There is simply humanity. Either you respect it or you don’t. The insistence that not helping people is the key to a better country is not only ludicrous but also self destructive.

This “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mantra is nothing more than a spirit of ignorant laden arrogance. Yet it’s incredibly layered. The same conservative no help advocates easily gather money to support the likes of George Zimmerman and Dylan Roof.

There is money for hate, money for prisons but no money for basic human rights. Still people wonder why the U.S. lags far behind its peers in education and healthcare. The country is literally crumbling from within. This is not advancement.

The hierarchies among societal determined race, class, status, and ethnicity have often left certain people to believe that they are immune to the pains of others. People are falsely believing that the poverty on the other side of the tracks is not their problem. Yet, poverty, pain, and disenfranchisement are mirrors to what happens when a society fails itself. Like diseased limbs, eventually the suffering of the margins spread to the center. This became more visibly evident with the housing crisis of 2007. Subprime mortgage loans disproportionately targeting and affecting millions of African Americans and Latinos, quickly poisoned the U.S. and international banking system. This lead to one of the biggest financial crises in U.S. history. Bear Stearns collapsed. Those people became all people. Still much of society has yet to learn from this.

Each push for privatization of basic needs like education and healthcare leads us further down the spiral of creating a helpless society spindled with sorrow and pain. Each time the working class pushes for change, it is met with the resistance of 3,000 mules. They are beaten down, further marginalized then publicly berated for supposed shiftlessness. The impoverished and the working class are not lazy but broken; Broken by a profit driven society that vehemently tears down all attempts towards upward mobility among the underclass. The widespread voting disenfranchisement attempts in Black, Latino and poor communities over the last few years bears witness to this fact.

We live in a country designed to privilege some of the people instead of all of the people.

Yet that raggedy sign remains, permeating the atmosphere with its owner’s smug indifference. Their simple-minded “no help” philosophy is perhaps the greatest example of someone that needs help most of all.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a writer, social justice advocate and the founder of Our Legaci. Learn more about her work at JessicaAnnMitchell.com.

To reach JAM, email OurLegaci@gmail.com.
Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

Bree Newsome & Confrontational Civil Disobedience

Bree Newsome  Our Legaci

On the morning of June 27th, 2015, activist Bree Newsome took down the Confederate flag in front of the South Carolina Statehouse. She was immediately arrested. As news spread of her civil disobedience, public support poured in online. Her removal of the flag symbolizes the dire tactics now being taken by a new generation of activists. While the tactics of old still have merit, the emerging generation of Black activists surrounding Black Lives Matter, Ferguson, Baltimore movements and beyond, have repeatedly pushed the helms of civil disobedience, tapping into and reinventing tools for on-the-ground activism.

After 6 Black women and 3 Black men were murdered at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Confederate flag still remained raised at the South Carolina Statehouse and other public spaces.

The Confederate flag has been used as a tool for symbolizing the oppression of Black Americans throughout the South. It is not merely an innocent symbol of pride. In fact, the Confederate flag was added to the SC Statehouse in 1962 as a symbolic protest against the achievements of the Civil Rights Era. The murderer of the slain 6 Black women and 3 Black men regarded the Confederate flag as a symbol of his white supremacist beliefs.

Just as the swastika is known as a tool of Nazi propaganda and symbol of the Holocaust, with the deaths of millions of Jewish people, the Confederate flag is a tool of white supremacist ideals connected to the deaths of millions of African descended people across the Americas. It specifically is used as a tool to promote nostalgia of the South’s slavery era, in which Black Americans were enslaved and tortured on a daily basis. Within this nostalgia is the idea of the “Master,” the owner of slaves and plantations, with the power to treat Blacks in what ever manner he pleased. During chattel slavery, Masters had many tools for physical and mental oppression. Public whippings, hangings, chains, cutting off of limbs, hot boxes and etc, were used as the Masters’ tools for securing subjugation.

After Civil War defeat, Reconstruction and much later the Civil Rights Era, bitterness towards Black life and achievements remained a Southern norm. At any turn, many white southerners sought to reaffirm their supremacy. Thus, during desegregation and Civil Rights movements, the Confederate flag started being used in public spaces as a symbolic expression of white supremacy. The false mantra that the confederate flag is a symbol of “bravery” amongst Confederate soldiers is merely used as a diversion tool. Black southerners are continually reminded that the Confederate flag serves as a warning to Blacks, as if to say, “Don’t push it too far with this ‘rights talk.’ Remember where you are.”

Bree Newsome’s takedown of the Confederate flag is symbolic of the changes that the Emerging Majority is forcing the U.S. to confront. Traditions of the past steeped on the hills of oppression will no longer be accepted as mere nuisances. The more these symbols are allowed to be promoted happily throughout society, the more ingrained they become in the minds of new generations.

Consequently, this cycle of oppression and its symbols need to be dethroned at every corner.

At the end of World War II, Germany went through a denazification process. Following the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union, entire cities were renamed in Russia. Statues of communist leaders were torn down. Currently, in the United States of America there are still cities, streets, and statues in honor of slave traders, slave owners, rapists and other terrorists of Black life. America has yet to have a thorough organized and sustained dethroning of white supremacy, even though America was at the forefront of much of the denazification process.

Though removing the Confederate flag will not end Black oppression, it is a step in the right direction.

In the words of Audre Lorde, “The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.” Thus it is imperative to utilize methods for organizing that are centered around current Black realities while also countering and deconstructing anti-Black narratives. Bree Newsome and her fellow activists are taking vital steps towards continuing this practice of dethroning oppressive symbolism through confrontational civil disobedience.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a writer, social justice advocate and the founder of Our Legaci. Learn more about her work at JessicaAnnMitchell.com.

To reach JAM, email OurLegaci@gmail.com.
Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

The Convenience of Forgetting

The-Democratic-Platform

In May of 2014, I published a piece about my family’s escape from sharecropping. I was surprised to learn that so many people didn’t know that sharecropping was slavery rebooted. The title of this article was Dismantling Collective Amnesia. It received a tremendous amount of feedback from writers and historians alike. I was applauded for both sharing and remembering the story. Still, it wasn’t as if I had a choice. Such transgenerational survival stories do not afford the convenience of forgetting.

Fast forward to April 2015. It was revealed that Ben Affleck participated in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s well known PBS series, “Finding Your Roots.” However, when one of his ancestors (Benjamin Cole) was discovered to be a former slave owner, he requested that Benjamin Cole be completely erased from his family history. This ancestor (that Affleck shares his first name with) would not be included in Affleck’s “Finding Your Roots” episode. This was in order to avoid being associated with his ancestor’s past. Supposedly, Gates’ team allowed this erasure to occur.

This created a firestorm, in which Gates, a renowned African American Studies historian, faced criticism. It is unknown as to how much pressure was placed on the team to exclude this pivotal component of Affleck’s family history. But one thing is certain. Affleck represents America’s denial problem. His initial refusal to include the full truth of his family’s history aligns perfectly with America’s current trajectory of denial and erasure. It’s the same premise as “all this racism with no racists.” All this oppression with no oppressors. Affleck may have been trying to deter attention from someone he was ashamed of, however he contributed to the historical denial of oppression mounted on people of African descent; as if slavery were a figment of Black imagination, and slave owners are simply fictional characters that exist only in our minds.

It’s the same travesty as schools in Texas and Massachusetts seeking to rewrite history books to make slavery appear less brutal. It’s the same as publishers seeking to detract “nigger” from Mark Twain’s books to make him appear less racist. It’s the same as the years of denial that Thomas Jefferson was a slave owning rapist.

Furthermore, Affleck’s ability to dodge this history is a brilliant display of his own racially tiered privilege. Black Americans do not have the privilege of dodging history and the pains of slavery simply because it makes us uncomfortable. Black Americans do not have the privilege of making special requests to disconnect us from being the descendant of enslaved people. So much of the U.S. Black experience is systematically connected to slavery and the imagery of servitude. There is no escaping this, no matter how factually incorrect many of these depictions may be.

The truth is many people of African descent were enslaved in the Americas. The truth is there were enslavers that made this industry possible. Affleck’s ancestor was one of them. His attempt to disconnect himself, is an attempt to erase this truth, thereby erasing the truth about how racial oppression operates and who is behind it.

Ignoring these truths is not a viable solution. Acknowledgement and discomfort is necessary in order to dismantle institutional oppression. Though Affleck is a well known liberal, his denial is representative of many white liberals and conservatives alike who seek to dodge history in order to quell discomfort and personal responsibility towards acknowledging and dismantling systematic privilege.

Current day systems of oppression thrive on the lives of marginalized groups. For example, the current struggle for living wages among America’s working class is closely linked to strategies from chattel slavery for maximizing labor and increasing profit with low wage expenses.

The plantation didn’t just produce the commodities that fueled the broader economy, it also generated innovative business practices that would come to typify modern management. As some of the most heavily capitalized enterprises in antebellum America, plantations offered early examples of time-motion studies and regimentation through clocks and bells. Seeking ever-greater efficiencies in cotton picking, slaveholders reorganized their fields, regimented the workday, and implemented a system of vertical reporting that made overseers into managers answerable to those above for the labor of those below.

The perverse reality of a capitalized labor force led to new accounting methods that incorporated (human) property depreciation in the bottom line as slaves aged, as well as new actuarial techniques to indemnify slaveholders from loss or damage to the men and women they owned. Property rights in human beings also created a lengthy set of judicial opinions that would influence the broader sanctity of private property in U.S. law. – Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman (How Slavery Led To Modern Capitalism)

In order to break these systems apart, there has to be a truthful discussion about what happened, who was responsible, and how it can be rectified. There must be a sincere attempt at truth and reconciliation.

This was Affleck’s opportunity to show his enslaving ancestor as an example of the ills of America’s past. Then show himself as a person working to rectify these ills. Instead he chose to ignore the issue altogether. For that, he reinforces a hard truth about America. Denial is chosen over healing. Erasure is chosen over accountability. Consequently, marginalized and systematically oppressed communities continue to be blamed for their own oppression, and history is laid to the wayside.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is a writer, social justice advocate and the founder of Our Legaci. Learn more about her work at JessicaAnnMitchell.com.

To reach JAM, email OurLegaci@gmail.com.
Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

“How could you be afraid of a little boy?”

Toni-Morrison

In an interview with journalist Charlie Rose, Toni Morrison discussed police brutality and violence against African Americans. She asked a series of questions that point to a key issue in America, the criminalization of Black skin and the white supremacist values cloaked in cowardice that leads to the deaths of so many unarmed Black victims.

She asked:

How are you afraid of a man running away from you?

How are you afraid of someone standing in the grocery store, on the phone with a toy gun, that you could buy in the store?

How could you be afraid of a little boy?

And who are these people calling who call 911? Who are they?

You look out the window and you see a kid with a toy gun and you get on the phone?

Her usage of the term “cowardly” speaks volumes in describing how institutionalized the dehumanization of Black people continues to be.  The so called “fear” is based on creating a worldview of African descended people as less human in terms of intellectual prowess and super-human in terms of physical strength (especially when referring to criminality). This animalistic perspective has been at the center of anti-Blackness for centuries. Examples include when “scientists” debated the brain size of Blacks and religious leaders debated whether or not Africans had souls in order to deem slavery justified. It was the central theme of The Birth of A Nation, the 1915 propaganda film that overtly warned white Americans that free negros were a threat to society.

This would explain why someone could believe they have a logical explanation for shooting a person running away from them or gunning down a child and refusing to provide the child with medical attention.

They truly believe this unarmed person is “dangerous.” Officer Darren Wilson even described Mike Brown as a “demon” with the strength of WWF wrestler “Hulk Hogan.” That’s the thought process.

Super-human

Violent

Animalistic

It never changes.

Though Jonathan Capehart imprudently asserts the mantra “hands up don’t shoot” was built on a lie, the premise behind Mike Brown’s death follows the same superhuman negro/must be put down like an animal aggression trajectory. Whether or not his hands were raised, does not alter the key issue behind why Brown’s death was deemed justified. Simply put, he was perceived to be another dangerous negro.

Through this lens:

Mike Brown wasn’t a 17-year teenager. He was a raging gorilla loose on the streets.

Rekia Boyd was not an innocent bystander. Her very presence was violence as a potential threat.

Tamir Rice wasn’t a little boy. He was a roaming gunman looking for a victim.

Aiyana Stanley Jones wasn’t a sleeping little girl. She was a member of a familial mob the required brute force at first encounter.

With each death of an unarmed Black person, especially at the hands of police or people in assumed positions of societal authority, the cowardice and the fear is a reassertion of white supremacist beliefs, even if the victim dies at the hands of a Black police officer. Many members of mainstream media happily overlook this. Just as women can be patriarchal misogynists, Blacks can internalize Black inferiority and white supremacist beliefs.

Police have been given the authority to uphold laws and societal norms. While at the same time, the collective fear of Blackness operates as a U.S. societal norm. Thus the deaths of unarmed Black victims ensues, regardless of the ethnicity of the officer. When this occurs, the officers are then protected by the society that continuously protects and rebirths this norm.

Within the communities of the victims, they are seen as they are…human beings deserving of protection.

Mike was a teenager walking.

Rekia was a teenager standing.

Tamir is a 9-year old playing.

Aiyana was a 7-year old sleeping.

Amongst their communities, these victims are seen through a different lens..the lens of humanity. So when Toni Morrison asks, “How could you be afraid of a little boy?”

This question is very layered and could be interpreted as, “When will you see the little boy that I see?”

When will the lens be corrected?

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

 

Watch Toni Morrison’s interview below:

For My Mother

JAM and Mom 640

For my mother

That loves so hard

That gives too much

That fights when there is no fight left

But fights again

That pushes and pulls and tugs and stands and cries and soars for her children

That makes worlds from words and hides her poems

That heals with gifts, when she is the gift

That births spirit through unexpected cheer

That fashions through ancestral memory

That is eternal in her sincerity

That determined determination

For my mother

That deserves a new dawn yet is the dawn

That receives an unseen protection

That is the descendant of sharecroppers and the everlasting daughters of Tikar

That is not forgotten

That is etched in the memory of the remembered

That is a favorite of the favored

That is watched by God’s appointed gods yet is Goddess

That is the love of copious life

You are my dream, my waking breath, my galactic starlight

My plentiful everything

My source before sources

My love for you is a bottomless sweetgrass basket

filled with enchanted fruits to feed your hopes

guarded with primordial spears

covered in the warmth of Virginia’s kiss

Guided by the melody of Ernest’s song

And all for my mother

Love,

Jessie

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

Disappearing Words: Writing In The Digital Space

 

Zora Reading

Zora Neale Hurston reading

There’s something magical about writing and sharing the inner workings of your mind instantly. That’s how it works in the digital space. We’re constantly sharing, breathing new life into old words. Yet, at the same time there’s a fleeting feeling.

Another case of police brutality…write a think piece.

Another person says something racist…write a think piece.

Another person does something sexist…write a think piece.

I’ve actually come to hate think pieces. I can’t help but feel like a rat on a wheel. There’s this constant spinning motion pushing you to stay writing, stay hitting that publish button in hopes of likes or some monetary gain. I’ve heard it referred to as “feeding the beast.” The internet is never satisfied. What’s popular today is gone tomorrow, almost as if it never existed. Old suddenly takes on new meaning. Content often focuses on who can break it faster and hinders most real possibilities of in-depth analysis or nuanced discussions.

Everyone must ride the wave. Or be deemed nonexistent.

I’ve often wondered how potent their words would have been if Langston Hughes or Zora Neale Hurston spent hours on Facebook and Twitter instead of penning poems and writing books. Perhaps they would have gained a “following.”

Yet, would we value their work the same? Would their words have been added to the endless stream of brilliant yet easily discardable “latest posts?” Would we still value their time?

The problem with digital writing is there is nothing to hold on to. It’s not the same feeling as having a physical book or magazine. It’s digital, cloud based, and light like air. Thereby making digital writing feel temporary, like a fleeting gust of wind.

Though nothing ever really disappears on the internet, the quick natured environment of digital communication makes important dialogue get quickly discarded in exchange for the latest controversy.

Everyone feasts upon it, dining on every piece, tearing apart every strip. Then, on to the next one. Lack of substance becomes reality. Quick witted pseudo scholars, psychologists and self help gurus dominate droves of gullible minds simply because they’ve found the key to social media. They’ve learned to ride, even manipulate the waves.

Even with well meaning publications, writing becomes another day, another click bait. Always striving to be ahead of the page view curve makes substance secondary. Everyone is striving to be memorable without memory.

Where do we go from here?

How do we deal with the issue of disappearing words? (The fleeting times, the missed moments, the badly deconstructed ideas, and the incessant desire to be noticed.)

There are no real answers to this question. Perhaps our only choice is to be inventive: push the limits, dig, write, erase, write again, breakdown, and build up in ways that haven’t been done before. Maybe then, our words will serve more as a reference point than some random page, that once was skimmed and forgotten.

Nevertheless, we will do what writers do. We’ll keep writing, hoping the digital swindlers leave enough room for us to make an impact before our words disappear.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.