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E.M. Monroe

"I knew, not from memory, but from hope, that there were other models by which to live." Weems

Month

December 2014

Models Monday: Checking Your Assumptions

Track_and_Field

When I was 19-years-old, I had a meeting with my college track coach wherein we were supposed to discuss the improvements he wanted to see in my performance on the track the following year. Honestly, I can’t remember if he gave me his plan before or after I shared my plan with him. What I do remember saying to him is, “I will no longer be running for the team. I have chosen to give-up my scholarship.” He was shocked. “What are you going to do about school?” he asked. “Continue my studies,” I responded to my stunned, very soon to be ex-coach. From there, my (ex)coach went on to tell me that he liked having me on the team, knew my talents, understood that athletes who come from rigorous high school programs are often burnt out, and that he was hard on me because he believed that to be motivation for me to “prove [him] wrong.” I was gracious and thanked him for sharing his thoughts as well as for telling me that I would always be welcome to return to the team if I ever “got that itch back.” He wished me well and I left his office feeling fully emancipated.

From the day of my final meeting with my track coach until this very day, I am very aware of the assumptions that ostensibly correspond to how others regard your intentions, motives, beliefs, and values. When my (ex) coach told me that being tough on me was meant as an incentive, I thought but did not say, “but what if I don’t respect you?” He just assumed that he was someone whose opinions, thoughts, and beliefs were important to me. He assumed far too much. I never liked him; I never wanted to be in his company; I never respected him; and I never cared what he thought. It’s one thing to recognize that holding a position of authority necessarily means having a measure of influence over those in your charge, but assuming that you know the entirety of someone’s thoughts, impressions, and motivations is something altogether different. My (ex)coach didn’t know me. I never had an “itch” to run. In fact, I never liked it–I never liked the burn and the breathlessness. I had the skill to perform at a high level and I liked that my performance and my athletic achievements were obvious signs of my ability to compete and to win. While I find having the stomach for competition valuable, I much prefer cooperation. Competition, then, was never an “itch” or a great need of mine; it was something I could do well and so I did it…but I never liked it.

Since that moment in my (ex)coaches office, I have continually encountered the faulty assumptions of those who presume their significance in my life. Every encounter teaches me more about arrogance, racism, sexism and also the ambition to subdue, dominate, control, or exploit others. I worked under the management of a white woman when I was processing an archival collection. Every morning, she would come into the processing area and have a conversation with the group. She was certain to exclude me from this conversation. When I tried to join in the chatting she never acknowledged that I had spoken; in fact, no one did. After she did this on one particular occassion, we were all in the coffee room taking a break and she comes over and whispers to me, “I see you’re in a better mood now.” Being a student of the dynamics of race/racism in America and the evil it seeks through an ambition to cause black and brown folk to feel uncertain about our reading of the world, in that moment with my manager I knew exactly what she was doing and this knowledge greatly informed my response: I smiled. What that woman didn’t understand was that I didn’t respect her. I thought she was crazy and I was certain that her goal was to manipulate my perception of our interactions.

I have countless stories like the one’s I’ve shared. Thankfully, having an oppositional consciousness has kept me from being drawn into conversation and dialogue with those who have these gross assumptions about me and their role in my life. I didn’t give a f*#k about what my (ex)coach thought and I didn’t give a f*#k about what my manager thought. The ugliness of witnessing their presumptions has helped me cultivate a very strong awareness of my own voiced presumptions. In many ways, this blog pays tribute to this perspective. My embrace of “other models by which to live” challenges the assumptions that go unchallenged in popular culture. Rather than feeling obligated to do what Dr. Oz says, what Oprah says, what Fox News says, what The Real Housewives says, or what Scandal says I consider the possibility of what other models of living and of being exist. Addressing your assumptions to someone about what you think they value, what you think they should do, or what they need to know is at least arrogant and at most bloodlessly violent. In trying to respect the values, ideas, and aims of others I try to check any perception on my part that people give a f*#k about what I think. Unless I recognize an immediate threat to someone’s life or person, I wait until I’m asked before I start going off like I’m the personal authority on who they are and what they value.

 

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Models Monday: The Myth of Time’s Passage

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I wonder what the experience of living in a thoughtful country or society is like. Living in the United States denies its citizens such an experience. No better case helps showcase our anti-intellectual climate than public discussions and expressed opinions regarding race and racial justice. Perhaps Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and both the current NYC Police Chief and NYC Patrolmen Benevolent Association President, Bill Bratton and Patrick Lynch have no experience dealing with a single, mentally ill, black man for ostensibly* killing two police officers in revenge for the non-convictions of white police officers who killed unarmed black American (young) men (*I say “ostensibly” because Brinsley is DERANGED so his relationship to logic and reason should be discredited). When deranged white men kill theater goers or young white boys kill elementary school teachers and students, they’re always “brilliant” and lack the “criminal background” of Ismaaiyl Brinsley. Brinsley’s criminal past includes robbery, carrying a concealed gun, and shooting an ex-girlfriend. Rather than the gun control conversation after the shootings at the movie theatre and the elementary school with their intersection with discussions of mental illness, we have people blaming the current NYC Mayor, protestors, and the President of the United States for sanctioning Brinsley’s crimes. Instead of a substantive conversation about the continuation of the tragedies stemming from this intersection, Giuliani, Brattan and Lynch linked protests associated with #BlackLivesMatter and Color of Change as catalysts for the horrible gunning down of two officers. I guess if protestors stop making noise and challenging brutal, racist, and lethal police tactics regarding black and brown Americans, police officers would be safe and appropriately respected for their service to the community. But if the protests end, how might we ever see the end of police brutality?

Politically, I understand why #BlackLivesMatter and Color of Change issued statements in response to Brinsley’s deranged and lethal attack on two men for what they symbolized, but in a thoughtful society such statements wouldn’t seem necessary; “derangement” would actually mean something. Rather than seriously examining the pervasive violence in the United States, instead of an intense consideration for the maintenance of malicious racial stereotypes of black Americans as vengeful, violent, and hate-filled the public discourse surrounding one man’s derangement and his crime has turned into a vapid conversation about all black people (especially those protesting or supporting protests) endorsing revenge killings. This red herring may be why race relations in the United States are still stuck in the antebellum period.

Models Monday: Mr. Miles

Miles Sketch
Now that he’s 6 years-old, he doesn’t look like this anymore, but he’s still a sharp little dude. Happy Birthday, Miles!!!

 

Models Monday: Today’s Uncle Tom

First-edition cover.
First-edition cover

In The Annotated Uncle Tom’s Cabin edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Hollis Robbins, they reconsider Harriet Beecher Stowe’s effective use of sentimentality in virtually sanctifying constructions of Uncle Tom and George Harris, for example, as “perfect husbands.” According to Gates and Robbins, connecting slavery and domesticity, specifically marriage, was a chief insight from Stowe in this protest novel. Gates and Robbins admit that as early readers, they saw no relationship between these two institutions and so overlooked any abolitionist platform that might build on this novel. As seasoned readers however, Gates and Robbins assert that, “Stowe’s great claim was that men might embrace antislavery politics because their wives expected better of them.” Much of what follows in this introduction explores Stowe’s understanding of how women, particularly wives, could be greatly attracted to many of the near perfect husbands in the novel and want more from their own husbands. For Gates and Robbins, the unstated but very present sexual subtext of the novel helps explain its misinterpretation beyond its own era.

In the 1960s, for example, Uncle Tom became emblematic of the enemy within the black race who worked on behalf of white supremacy. Gates and Robbins write:

This was the era when–for the first time in our history–one could be read out of the race publicly for not being “black” enough. The term “Uncle Tom” became synonymous with self-loathing. For years after, everything connected with Uncle Tom’s Cabin recalled this nightmare, our very own version of the Inquisition, the time when blacks turned on other blacks as the enemy, as the principal targets of our revolutionary fervor. Clearing out the cabin suddenly became more urgent than dismantling the Big House.

While Gates and Robbins recognize that considerations for Uncle Tom’s apparent emasculation and sexually charged, physical ur-text of his character may have influenced black power castigation of such figures, Gates and Robbins hold deep appreciation for Stowe’s technique in protesting slavery. Unlike Gates and Robbins, I prefer the metaphor that derives from a limited appreciation for Stowe’s technique. Now I agree that throwing the term “Uncle Tom” around can have dangerous consequences, but at the same time it would be dangerous to dismiss someone who colludes with systems of domination and thus against the well-being of black folk. In my view, “Uncle Tom” is a very good metaphor for “the enemy” within. Samuel L. Jackson’s role in Django Unchained offers a very good example of the ugliness of being an “Uncle Tom.” Here’s a good example of Stephen selling out Django:

The contempt many viewers have for Stephen testifies to the brilliance of Jackson’s performance as an Uncle Tom. His collusion with that evil, cruel slaveholder Calvin Candy at the expense of Django and Broomhilda von Shaft conveys the ugliness, selfishness, brutal or lethal outcome, and general danger of failing to notice the Uncle Toms among you.

In real life, the best example of a contemporary Uncle Tom is Charles Barkley. Watch his minstrel routine here:

Charles Barkley will always be employed because his conservative views on racism and white supremacy support the media platforms where he serves as a mouthpiece justifying police brutality against black people (he also supported the play cop Zimmerman verdict). Barkley’s view of black people does not stem from his careful study of African American history and culture, an intense investigation of systems of domination, or even a close reading of the way he individually profits from demonizing black people. If he knew even a wee-bit of something about white supremacy as it intersects with other systems of domination, he would understand the relevance of slavery and Jim Crow as an ongoing narrative in the United States. Controlling black people’s movements, surveilling our communities, brutalizing and disciplining our bodies, denying us freedom, and murdering us with impunity NEVER ended. The police officers in Ferguson didn’t hang Mike Brown from a tree, but the four hours his dead body remained visible offered a spectacle very similar to one. Being from Alabama, Barkley, you would think, would know a little something about “Bull” Connor’s contempt for black people and his abuse of power in his efforts to maintain segregation in Birmingham. If Barkley knew just a little something about race in America, he would know that the collective power he claims denied black people given our glorification of idiocy and thuggery is the outcome of a system of domination designed to work this way. Though Barkley called those black folk in Ferguson “scumbags,” here’s how Martin Luther King, Jr. described the black folks involved in the Watts Uprising in 1965:

King told reporters that the Watts riots were ‘‘the beginning of a stirring of those people in our society who have been by passed by the progress of the past decade’’ (King, 20 August 1965). Struggles in the North, King believed, were really about ‘‘dignity and work,’’ rather than rights, which had been the main goal of black activism in the South (King, 20 August 1965).

Later that fall, King wrote an article for the Saturday Review in which he argued that Los Angeles could have anticipated rioting ‘‘when its officials tied up federal aid in political manipulation; when the rate of Negro unemployment soared above the depression levels of the 1930s; when the population density of Watts became the worst in the nation,’’ and when the state of California repealed a law that prevented discrimination in housing (King, ‘‘Beyond the Los Angeles Riots’’).

Now we all know that King did not endorse violence, but as he offers his perspective on Watts, he clearly understood why violence in that community erupted. For King, violence wasn’t the result of black American dereliction, violence stemmed from governmental and systemic neglect. Being from Alabama, I guess I shouldn’t expect Barkley to know anything about what King had to say. Alabama joined with other segregationist states (in other words, all of America) in HATING King. So when you’re thinking about the ghoulish, nightmarish mid-sixties vision of someone as an Uncle Tom, just picture Charles Barkley in a white hood; that should help you.

Officer Panteleo and the Afterlife of Wrestle-mania

Officer Pantaleo's "wrestling move" as it happened.
Officer Pantaleo’s “wrestling move” as it happened.

When 29 year-old Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo used a banned chokehold maneuver that would kill Eric Garner, it was all good ’cause the Officer perceived himself as using a “wrestling move.” Officer Pantaleo didn’t “mean” to kill Garner, he was just trying to arrest the man for the horrendous crime of selling individual cigarettes. As my son would say, “it was just an accident–it’s o.k.” In other words, Sh$t happens. Oops. My bad. Officer Pantaleo admitted that Mr. Garner told him that he “couldn’t breathe,” but Pantaleo’s lawyer had his back! Stuart London—lawyer/wrestling manager/hype-man–argued that the coroner’s conclusion that the chokehold and the compression to Mr. Garner’s chest caused his death was wrong because in saying he could not breathe, Mr. Garner had to be breathing; and it worked! The grand jury bought it. Who were these jurists? How could those people not reason that Mr. Garner was saying he could not breathe until he was not breathing? It’s like when an officer gets shot and says, “I’m hit! I’m hit!” The officer most certainly is alive when uttering those words, but if the bullets cause irreparable damage and the officer stops breathing, then (s)he is dead and whoever shot the officer would be charged with murder. Unlike a bullet, Officer Panteleo and his boys could’ve lightened-up on the man when he told them they were suffocating him, but Mr. Garner was still talking so they just kept at it. If the point wasn’t to kill Mr. Garner, why didn’t they just stop? I’m no medical doctor but I can reason that a suffocating man would be pretty easy to arrest at that point.

Officer Panteleo’s storyline borrows a script straight from the Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage age when he claims that he didn’t immediately release Mr. Garner because he was protecting him. You see, he didn’t want “both he and Garner [to] go through that glass.” Still concerned for Mr. Garner’s well-being, Officer Pantaleo not only held on to maintain his balance, but also because, “he wanted to make sure that Mr. Garner was not injured by other officers rushing in, as well as to prevent Mr. Garner from possibly biting one of them.” Officer Panteleo was trying to make sure that everyone remained unharmed! I mean, if the unarmed, suffocating man who posed a considerable threat to the community due to his illegal cigarette selling was to be released from the officer’s grip, who knows what would’ve happened…

I want to tell the kid hugging the cop in this viral photograph, “stay away from cops passing out hugs.” If this child doesn’t heed some sorta caution, as he gets older, those hugs from cops become a little bit firmer…if he actually becomes a black man, this same cop will hug him to death.ferguson-free-hug-1

Malcolm X once used the figure of chocking to make a point concerning white supremacist violence and injustice:

…if you speak in an angry way about what has happened to our people and what is happening to our people, what does he call it? Emotionalism. Pick up on that. Here the man has got a rope around his neck and because he screams, you know, the cracker that’s putting the rope around his neck accuses him of being emotional. [Laughter] You’re supposed to have the rope around your neck and holler politely, you know. You’re supposed to watch your diction, not shout and wake other people up— this is how you’re supposed to holler. You’re supposed to be respectable and responsible when you holler against what they’re doing to you.

As former professional wrestler Rick Flair used to say, “WOOOOO!!!”

Models Monday: I Can Get Wit’ It

Here's what the description says for this image: This is an evaluation image and is Copyright Pamela Perry. Do not publish without acquiring a license. Image number: 0515-0911-1000-3544. http://www.acclaimimages.com/_gallery/_pages/0515-0911-1000-3544.html
Here’s what the description says for this image: This is an evaluation image and is Copyright Pamela Perry. Do not publish without acquiring a license. Image number: 0515-0911-1000-3544. http://www.acclaimimages.com/_gallery/_pages/0515-0911-1000-3544.html. Well, if I were Pamela Perry, I wouldn’t want anything to do with the bizarre Thanksgiving story this image tells. So if it’s blocked later–that’s fine ’cause this is all kinds of nonsense.

Since my son’s been in pre-school, Social Studies, I’ve learned, has nothing to do with time. I guess I sorta understand why given that young children, even when they can tell time, don’t appear to understand it. In my son’s case, I usually say that he speaks of time in biblical terms. Thus, he might say something like, “I want it to be my birthday for 40, 50 hundred minutes.” When children begin to glimpse time through the sun and the moon, summer can be hell because when you try to keep them on a consistent 8:00 bedtime schedule, they recognize that it’s still light outside…but back to Social Studies. For three years, Social Studies has meant lessons about community, culture, transportation, the Post-Office and other very rudimentary things about how a very generic society functions. So now that he’s in first grade, I was very curious about the Thanksgiving lesson he’d receive. When I was in school, the lesson involved Pilgrims, Native Americans, maze, and a feast. Here’s what my son says he learned:

The Pilgrims came over. They enslaved some people who taught them how to survive. The slaves taught the Pilgrims

to fish. They buried the fish in the ground and that produced the food they ate. The end.

Miles’s story had little bits of American history that I can get with. Some Europeans came to a place, committed violence through enslavement, and used the knowledge of those they enslaved to sustain themselves. I have no idea how the dead fish produced food, but he told me he couldn’t explain it, that’s just what he’d “thought [he] heard the teacher say.” I don’t know what those other kids learned but it sounds like Miles took a little bit of what he learned from his teacher–Thanksgiving and Pilgrims–sprinkled in with the stories I read to him that feature slaveholders and enslaved people, and rounded the story up with a little bit of the bible (that’s the only sense I can make of the fish).

Miles’s version works for me–especially in the aftermath of Darren Wilson’s free pass for killing a black unarmed child. When I saw this photograph

ferguson-free-hug-1

of a white police officer in Ferguson hugging this crying black child, I became sick to my stomach. Sentimentality is no substitute for justice. Next week, we’ll be reading about the same boy in this photograph being put into a chokehold by a police officer unfamiliar with the knowledge that black children were no longer demons for the men and women who take an oath to serve our communities. Thus, I like my son’s narrative because it paints a picture of the America that Malcolm X saw; one where these sentimental photographs of police officers hugging black people as the same BS that it is. It’s been almost fifty years since Malcolm was with us but his words reverberated in my ears over this Thanksgiving holiday. He spoke pure truth when he said, “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, the rock was landed on us.”

…I can get wit’ it

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