Banished

Warning Lynch images below. – I have reversed my ban on such images on the blog in order to bring home the true severity of lynch metaphors to those who remain in denial and also in case you would like to include them in your emails or letters to Bill O’Reilly requesting he not make light of such a history.

– – –

obamaosamaLast night when most people were being bored by the lack luster Oscars (lowest ratings in history of the show according to nielson), I was reminded of Bill O’Reilly. You see, John Stewart came out and told a “joke” about Obama’s name rhyming with Osama and him sharing the same name as Hussein. I missed it, thankfully. Though he certainly isn’t the first person to make such “jokes,” it seemed entirely inappropriate for the Oscars and reminded me once again what a certain kind of psuedo-news celebrity can do for your ability to spout offensive drivel in the guise of joking. In Stewart’s defense, he really was joking, but the joke he was repeating is based on anti-muslim sentiment in N. America (what somejs2 call islamaphobia and I just call racism) and was originally generated by the conservatives to discredit Obama’s candidacy. In that context, and the fact it was said at an award show not his show, makes it jarring at best. It also reminds us how easy it is to return to more overt versions of racialized discourse should Obama get the nomination.

In fact, just a day later a new photo of Obama is circulating the internet and likely to end up on MSNBC and CNN broadcasts later tonight. It shows Obama in a traditional draping visiting Kenya. Instead of people talking about how his previous trips to Kenya might make him the ideal candidate to de-escalate tensions in the obamainkenyaincreasingly election-torn country and elevating his image as someone who can handle African and Middle Eastern foreign affairs, the focus has been on the turban he is wearing. Obama’s camp claims the photo was deliberately circulated during this contentions point in the primaries and to capitalize on comments like Stewarts and the people who originally penned it by the Clinton Campaign. As with the initial days following the “drug dealer” comment, Clinton has denied any knowledge of the photo or sanction of its use. Regardless of its origin, the photo also capitalizes on anti-muslim racism in N. America and hopes to cast Obama as an outsider unworthy of political office.

Yet Stewart was only a teeny-tiny-bit of the reason I found myself thinking about O’Reilly last night. The other reason was the one time airing of the documentary by Marco Williams entitled Banished. Banished tells the story of forced expulsions of black land owners in the early 1900s from Pierce City Missouri, Harrison Arkansas, and Forsyth County Georgia. Harrison banished the black community twice, having failed to permanently scare them away the first time. It is now the home of one the most vocal leaders of the Klan in the area and a retirement area for people who choose it, as one retiree says, “because of the lack of blacks.” Though some in this same town have made minor effort toward banishedreconciliation, the town itself remains similar to the other two towns in their absence of racial diversity, their inability to locate or mark the thriving black communities that they destroyed, and a reticence to pay reparations to survivors. In one particularly telling moment in the documentary, a man returns to Pierce City to gets his father’s remains removed from the cemetary and is told they not only refuse to dig him up but that he owes back “burial taxes” for the amount of time his father has been buried there. When the cameras arrive, the funeral home changes its tune, but once they are gone the harassment and condemnation over the request that the town foot the $750 bill for the exhumation as reparations to a family whose land was taken and who was driven out of their home town to start again become unbearable. In the end, the man paid the bill himself to stop the harassment and the public demeaning of his character in Pierce City which he no doubt feared may lead to violence. People of color in neighboring towns to the three in the documentary remain quite clear that”you don’t want to be caught in Pierce City after dark.” So the threat of violence remains over 100 years later.

What does this have to do with O’Reilly?

Banished was completed in 2007. In 2007, whole towns in N. America have built their entire histories on the forceable florabonexpulsion of black land owners. They continue to use words like “n” and “coloreds” in their every day speech. Even those who will publicly admit that the taking over of whole neighborhoods of color was wrong have no intention of thinking about or addressing any kind of reparation that requires permanent public admission of guilt (like a monument), the return or pay for land or loved ones, or the telling of their history (both white and black) outside of a discourse of white supremacy. These towns do not exist in isolation but have become thriving retirement communities for people all over the nation who want to live where black people fear to tread. This is what history has made and what the present perpetuates.

When Bill O’Reilly claims we should lynch Michelle Obama if she did in fact say pride for her nation has been tempered until now, he is calling up not only the history of lynching but also its present ramifications. Though he may want to lynchedwomanunhinge the comment from its connotations we must be clear that lynching was used as a tool to prevent the exercise of the black vote (either to stop registration or to stop registered voters) and black political aspirations (by lynching black leaders). It was also used to enforce a mythic version of white womanhood through the policing of perceived and real sexual transgression between white women and black men. As part of this myth it remind black women that they were not “women” nor should they aspire to be in similar positions as white women; hence the multiple black women who were lynched for becoming housewives and refusing to work after the end of slavery. Finally, lynching was used to steal the economic and social power of black people whose ability to thrive despite racism offended some white people as in the case of these three towns and possibly many people in this election. These are all references that underpin O’Reilly’s comment about lynching a potential black first lady.

Between 1860 and 1920, hundreds of U.S. cities expelled black people from their towns. In all most every case they used ligedanielsthe supposed violation of a white woman by a black man as the excuse for the expulsion. First they lynched the man and then a mob drove out the rest of the black community. Once they were gone, their property was taken over by white townspeople and passed down to their descendants. N. American law continues to enforce property dispute statute of limitations that would have been impossible for black people under threat of lynching to have met in these cases.

The effect was not only economic but also pyscho-social. As California Newsreel says in their review of the documentary:

African Americans not only lost their hard-won homes, farms and businesses, but saw their communities and families dispersed and their very right to exist violated.

When Bill O’Reilly says he “doesn’t want to lead a lynch party unless . . .” this is the history he is calling up. When he goes unsanctioned for these comments, he is like the people in 100s of towns in N. America who have built their cultures around successful supremacist pushes to drive out people of color. His particular targeting of Michelle Obama, not bonBarack, and the subsequent silence or erasure by certain segments of the population also smacks of the sexism and cult of white womanhood that also underpins lynching.

In the same way I mourn the inability for certain segments of feminists to reconcile with certain other segments, I mourn the loss of this history for anyone but white supremacists and the families that suffered and survived them. If you do not know about expulsions as part of the making of modern day racially homogeneous regions, Black history month is the ideal time to find it out:

  • talk to a librarian – If you are lucky, you live in a town with an African American archives specialist who can show you the collections your city holds and talk to you not only about the history of expulsion and lynching at the national level but also the history of African-Americans in your own community.
  • check out online databases – there are several these days that will show you primary resources even. Temple University has an amazing collection that was recently featured in the news as well. Do an academic (vs a google) search and you should find everything you could possibly want to know.
  • watch Banished – it toured January of last year but is currently playing on Public Broadcasting and should be available for purchase soon.

One more thing you can do, write a letter condemning Bill O’Reilly’s comments and demanding that real action be taken to prevent such hate speech from going unchecked:

  • Bill O’Reilly – oreilly@fox.news or call 1-888-369-4762
  • Rupert Murdoch – call 212-852-7000 or write:
    Chairman and Chief Executive
    News Corporation
    1211 Avenue of Americas
    8th Floor
    NY, NY 10036
  • David Tabacoff, Executive Producer of the O’Reilly Factor: email
  • The FCC – official complaint forms or contact info

No matter which candidate you support for president, I hope that we can all get behind the idea that using a lynching metaphor and/or encouraging lynching on a national broadcast (or a basement ham radio) is not ok. Given the history of lynching as both a race and gender issue there is no excuse to not be able to tackle both in our response.

When remain silent about the small slights, like Stewarts or the latest supposed Clinton camp photo, we make room for O’Reilly’s comments and ultimately the actions and honoring of histories like that presented in Banished.

Queering Christmas – Remembering Kwanzaa

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa. The principle: Umoja (Unity). The promise: to strive for strength of family, community, race, and nation. As this day dawns, I find myself looking back on the unity marginalized youth have to forge in this season and what it means.

A thought piece on youth and the young ones who shared our home and/or holidays.

Memory:

I was obsessed with David Bowie as a Kid (oh yes, we have talked about this) & while some find this rare video “strange,” I loved it. In it’s own way it was the first real queering of Christmas at casa pbw.

One of the reasons this video is special, besides DB, is that it was playing when my grade school friend came out on my couch. He had taken refuge in my house while my parents were at work, something he did regularly to escape the drunkness of his adopted mother and the abusiveness of his adopted father. I would bring him home at great risk in the strict Catholic-Southern Baptist house of my childhood because I recognized the signs of brokenness and fear long before I even knew what had happened to him. He would come because of the hope his mother would be passed out by the time he got back and she would think he’d been there the whole time.

On this particular day, a few days before Christmas, MTV was playing “old christmas songs.” As we drooled over DB, my bestfriend told me both about the beatings and his desires. I wanted to never send him home again; as long as DB sang his peaceful song, I knew I wouldn’t have to.

Like many of my early childhood friends, S didn’t make it out. He ran away. lived downtown for a while. then disappeared.

Two events this Christmas made me think of him and be grateful that at least in our house it is safe:

  1. A meal with former mentees in my neighborhood
  2. Christmas dinner and a movie with the youth of myspace drooling fame

Uncounted Service to the Uni

The first, as you may recall from a previous post, was a gathering of people of color primarily from the Spanish speaking and Anglophone Caribbean but including all poc and some radical white folks. My mentee and his new bf, whom I met in passing back in November, another mentee and her gf, who moved here because it is “the gay mecca” (mmmhmmm, sure it is), and a bunch of their new friends recreated a meal I had come to love back in my days of teaching at Middle of Nowhere College. We sat, as one big family, sharing our favorite meals, cooked family style in their kitchen, and telling stories of then and now.

It was amazing to see them all grown up building lives and connections forged in undergrad and born out socio-political activism and power on the margins. They made me proud to have been a part of their educations. And though I made them stop telling me how important my role as mentor had been to them, I will carry their stories with me for those days when academe is kicking my butt.

Collegiality

The other meal was less “work related,” at least for me. As I have said before, my housemates invited some queer youth into the house against their agency policy because they had nowhere else to go. I believe in boundaries but I also believe that you don’t leave anyone behind. Mostly they have sat around goofing and planning campaigns, oh and stalking people on myspace with the main computer (yeah I said it) and then going off to work their case plans. Since they haven’t moved in and besides the myspace thing, they have been so great and fun, it wasn’t that big a deal.

I wasn’t really sure they would be here for Christmas. I honestly thought they might have been better off going to the former mentees’ holiday party where they could be around queers their own age, but they didn’t come around that day. Yet, on Christmas, there they all were, bright eyed, and ready to help out in the kitchen or with the youngest ones in our midst.

We did not have enough room to accommodate everyone around the dining room table this year and many of us have family food issues that makes formal dining painful anyway. So we moved buffet style from kitchen to tv room to watch Latter Days.

Before the movie started we went around the room and said one good thing about the person beside us, & thanked all of our cooks & wanna be cooks. Finally we were ready to let the queering of Christmas sink in with the best, cheesy, pseudo-holiday movie ever.

The wee ones did their best to pretend they were completely unmoved by having a home for the holidays but you could see happy in their eyes.

A funny thing happened on the way to dessert. The movie caught on “the slap heard around the queer world” scene and we had to turn on the lights to fix it. Two of the boys who had instigated the whole myspace dramarama were huddled together, wet faced, weeping, on the couch. Like the little girl curled up on the couch with my bestfriend watching DB, I suddenly stopped being Dr. Black Woman and became social service me.

What ensued was a conversation that never ceases to break my heart no matter how old. We all know how the story goes. We all know why these boys & girls & bois had no place to go. The film in all its cheesy goodness had reminded them what they had survived and some what they might have to face. As we talked, old and new, coupled and single, straight and gay, I remembered again how hard it is to be so young (and yes, why places like myspace are not the root of all evil).

It’s been a while for me, having had the whole semester away from PU where queers and angels fear to tread. My lesbian class was so full of internalized homophobes with their hate on that it was hard to remember how important it was to be there for the gogo boot and wings wearing sweeties in the front of the class – made brave because they knew I was taking names and kicking homophobic arse – and the grad students whose queerness was proud and yet often masked in their pedagogy. For me these moments at PU were always shaped by a culture in which violence was acceptable and where homophobic graffiti almost never got washed off the buildings or the walls. I never quite knew how much all that hate affected me until I was on a campus recently where every other person mentioned their partners and their kids without blinking; they do not know how lucky they are. Every time they did it, I stopped and stared, my silence a slow crying pain that finally broke out at dinner when I couldn’t not mourn all of the secrets and darkness my students at PU endure without sorrow any longer.

Having these kids in my midst all raw and desperate for life, reminded me that their catty-cuteness was a mask placed on so tight lest it slip and reveal the wounds they held too deep inside. Sadly having to be Foxy Brown on a rampage at work had made me almost forget how to recognize their angst or maybe I was still shut down from the things I saw and heard over the past month. In a war, the casualty can sometimes be your own heart.

J got the movie working, long before he let us know. When the trauma was sifted and the time was right he said triumphantly “the good part is coming.” A hush fell over the room, the lights went back off, and in moments we were witnessing that amazingly over the top moment in the restaurant. One of the kids beside me, laid his head on my shoulder and smiled. Much later, a femme in training, who speaks through various eye rolls and giggles, whispered “thank you” before ret
reating back to her dissafection.

Radical Pedagogy

Christmas can be about a lot of things. One of them, for me, has always been healing.

From the time I was little until now, I have never been able to see a broken person flailing to breathe and not share a piece of precious clean air with them. Every school yard altercation, every cliquish moment, every temper flare, I have ever been implicated in my life, boils down to me refusing to be silent in the rift between those society deems it is ok to target and those who have the privilege to look away. It is true that many times I have stood up for my own, but many more I have stood up for someone else’s identity. One thing we learned early in my house was: When one is oppressed, we are all oppressed. One one is broken, we are all bleeding.

One of the things the first queer woc I met at PU said to me was “I will have your back, but do not leave me twisting in the wind b/c I am so sick of that.” I thought she was kindred until I felt the lash of the dessert wind against my exposed chest and she was nowhere to be found. More recently I stood up for someone who tore me down days later to save his image of himself & his lover.

I think often people look away, stay silent, forget basic human kindness because they know that human beings wielding power from the margins or the centers will beat you down until there is nothing left to break. Worse some of them are trying to beat themselves through you. It is a cycle we share with the oppressors, taught to us by them, and enforced by them when we do not accept the ghetto and die there (Baldwin). Afterall, for us all to be free we must all be liberated both oppressed and oppressor (Mandela).

Umoja

Yet the lesson this Christmas was all it takes is a warm meal, an open heart, and ears to listen. All it takes is eyes that see and words, spoken and unspoken, that say “I know”, “You are worthy”, “You are loved.” There is a powerful difference between the politics of staring and the politics of caring.

If everybody had walked in Umoja this past holiday, how would today have looked different?

Oh New England

I haven’t had the physical health these days to address what I see as an ever increasing culture of violence in mainstream North America. This violence is aimed particularly sharply at women of color but also any number of marginalized groups that may or may not include us in their ranks. As I have said before, I see the linguistic and visual acts of violence against women of color (women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, etc.) as a harbinger of physical violence. I do not think nooses hanging from trees are either “schoolboy pranks” nor isolated self-contained incidents. Nor do I think the recent multiple hit and run (ran over, back up, ran over again) of a transwoman of color, the week long torture of a woman of color, or the death threats received by faculty women of color last year (which I would argue is at an all time high if I actually had access to the numbers to prove it) are the work of exceptional monsters. I grew up in K territory. In England, I had the dubious privilege of living down the street from where the BNP were stockpiling weapons in an underground warehouse (yes, I kid you not). I lost an Aunt to racialized sexual violence and murder in the “deep south.” And on a date in CT, I looked out from the golf course to see a K rally filling the parking lot below (yes, the date was spent hiding in a pavillion hoping no one looked up and saw me there). It is in this context that I look at the rising hate crime statistics, the supremacist recruiting and papering of communities along the border, the willingness of police and prosecuters to eschew hate crime, and the Supreme Court’s systematic statement to the nation that integration and civil rights days are numbered, that I say hold on because the ride is about to get deadly.

In another post, when I am not ill, I will talk about what I see as the legacy of Pres. Yosemite Sam and VP Voldermort, but for now I have to htp Rachel’s Tavern for bringing this to my attention:

Central CT State Uni school paper, The Recorder (scroll to page 16), printed a cartoon of a man peeing on a captive Latina. The caption references questions about the taste of his urine as the motivation for the humiliation but not the kidnap.

Clearly the Editors of The Recorder are making some connections that we should all pay attention to:

  1. obvious – the recent kidnap of the west virginia woman who was forced to eat feces
  2. the violence and humiliation increasingly aimed at Latin@ immigrants which, for women, is often sexual and involving detention against ones will
  3. the belief that academia is an appropriate place for hate speech and that it will be sanctioned (ie no consequences)

Where did they get the idea that making light of recent events in West Virginia was ok? Did they get it from a culture that brings us comedy sketches like “Date Grape” or the backlash against feminism that has my female students coming to class and saying “well sometimes girls do make it [rape] up.” ? In the ways in which the violation of women has always been semi-acceptable in this country, yes I think that is certainly the sexism part of the equation.

However, I think point two shows clearly that there is also a clear message that women of color are imminently violatable. Black women may be purchased for the night or simply abducted, ridiculed and assaulted, because ultimately everyone will excuse the behavior as something else. Latinas, who thanks to the immigration debate, have become the perpetual immigrants are open to state sanctioned assault by border patrol, coyotes, minute men, supervisors, etc. as well documented in ICE data, court documents, and made for tv movies. Worse they are also border candy where if you pay extra you can kill them like in Juarez or violate their corpses like the still famous N. American artist turned exile critiqued in Coco Fusco’s essay “At Your Service.” In fact, as Andrea Smith reminds us in her chapter, “Sexual Violence as a Tool of Genocide” that women of color have always lacked bodily integrity (the right to say no, the right to their reproduction, the right to “respectability,” etc.) in the eyes of the N. American nation-state and as the court documents and the objectifying narrative of Mclarin’s Celia: A Slave remind us, at certain periods in history these acts were written into law. Much in the way they are unspokenly written in in the current period.

Third, and perhaps most important for the academics among us is the way in which college campuses have become one location of a multi-sited battle. The racialized physical, emotional, and sexual assault of women on college campuses is not new. One of the reasons I like to remind people the Duke Lacrosse team was not “found innocent” but rather the case was “dismissed due to insufficient evidence” after items went missing, witness testimony was compromised, and the victim’s credibility was dragged through the mud by the press and some feminist communities, is because I have seen with my own eyes the pacts privileged boys at privileged schools make about targeting and assaulting women of color. However, hanging nooses, chalking nooses, sending death threats, drawing supremacist images on homework, etc. are all resurgent behaviors that had largely died out. The use of the school paper to demean women, people of color, and the GLBTQ community had also largely been unacceptable of late but has clearly made a comeback. And though I chided in love, Anxious Black Woman, for worrying about having her classroom invaded by protesting conservatives from Horowitz camp since I believed it to be a teachable moment, I think they, the pledge, and the list of names are all part of this environment.

One very clear legacy of Castle Grey Skull (the gubment) is that we will have to live, or survive, a racially polarized nation that solves its domestic and foreign anxieties with violence. Women of color have always been the first to pay in this kind of climate but we are never alone as all marginalized people bear the brunt and thus society suffers as a whole.

One good thing, students in CT are not taking this latest event lightly. They have a new blog to take back the recorder and I think they are proving that we are equally powerful in the contest for whose voice and whose safety will be central to the post-Bush era.

Don’t Go Quietly

In her blog, dated Friday June 8, Ana Castillo recounts a story of street harassment intimately linked to local, current, events and long standing border ones.  Her story is specific in its reference to the genocide of Mexican women, or femicide, in the El Paso-Juarez area but also generalizable in its reflection of the dangers of the street for women around the world.  (Note, that most assaults are carried out by people you know and/or are in a relationship with and not a stranger on the street.) 
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Her call to "not go quietly" made me think of a conversation I had last night with a friend.

A friend and I were talking about what constitutes "winning the war;" no not that war.  We were talking about the war against oppression. I said it takes two things:

  1. People need to speak out in the face of oppression including oppressions that are seemingly unrelated to their own.
  2. We need a historical view of the world that keeps us from feeling like same old song different verse.

Speak Out!
The first one is not so much a reference to Audre Lorde, all though it could be, but rather to theScarfmicro
holocaust poem I often give my students in my racism, classism, and sexism courses.  You know the one:

When the Nazis Came for the communists
I remained silent
I was not a communist

When they locked up the social democrats
I remained silent
I was not a social democrat

When they came for the trade unionists
I did not speak out
I was not a trade unionist

When they came for me
there was no one left to speak out.

-Niemoller 1946

The poem has been adapted multiple times sense Neimoller, an early supported of Hitler, survived his imprisonment and began a campaign for reconciliation and amends in the post-WWII era.

The most famous, is on the New England Holocaust Museum and reads:

They came first for the Communists
and I did not speak up because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews
and I did not speak up, because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I did not speak up because I was Protestant.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

– Holocaust Memorial

Often people witness violence and do nothing.  Whether it is the violence of sexist remarks on the street, racism in the work place, or classism in a trendy shop, often there is a tacit understanding thaHercule_hydrat no one will speak.  For people on the margins who remain silent lest they be the next target, the decision not to speak only forestalls the inevitable.  Oppression works on a model of gradated power passed out in limited increments to pit people against one another and keep everyone’s eyes on their own storehouse until there is no one to stand with them when it is time to take that power back.

Until we see oppression as a hydra with many heads but only one root, we will continue to fight separately and/or believe that selling out will protect us and our families.

Historicizing Struggle

840aab73988e2a197f4e1b2e3b63db27_3
One of the things that prevents us from fighting together is also the limited view of history.  Apathy breeds in a people who cannot think beyond today.

If we look at the battle to end racism for instance, there was a time in this country in which black people were herded up and dragged across the ocean to live and die as slaves.  They retained no bodily integrity including rights to their own bodies and to that of their children. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued as a desperate measure to stop the break up of the Union, 244 years after the introduction of N. American slavery. It was a full 93 years later when Miss Rosa Parks made her stand on the bus and helped launch us into the Civil Rights era.  And all though it was only 12 years later that the first black woman joined Congress, it took another 49 more years for Harvard to appoint its first African American pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School.

Most of the rights gained by African Americans took generations of people laying claim to justice and equality.  They were not easily won battles nor were they one’s that many of the people who sacrificed to win them lived to see the outcome.

Any struggle from the margin against the center could be mapped the same way.  For instance, womenThree_girls_looking_at_magazine_new
were considered to be incapable of rational thought and denied education. 139 years past between Wollstonecraft’s call to educate women, and Wolf’s critique of her college experience in which she was denied access to certain books as unnecessary for her education. Another 40 years past before the first Women’s Studies Program opened its doors to students.

Equality is dismantled over time and naturalized through a vast network of interlocking systems.  Residual bigotry passes into each subsequent phase of oppression through retained signs with shifting signifiers.  Understanding this process makes it possible to stand up for what is right even when one knows that they may not see change in their lifetime.

We should hope for a better world here and now, but we should and can walk bravely against oppression because history has proven we will win.

A historical and interconnected view of struggle also gives us one more advantage: knowledge.  Much of what we are fighting against is the not-so-curious persistence of oppressive ideologies formed long ago.  When we think of our struggle as part of a long term battle, we can look closely and seriously at the strategies developed by our elders.  Looking across oppressions, we can also learn from the elders outside of our own identities for models.  Finally, we can develop a methodology against oppression that is inclusive and interdependent.

So as Ca
stillo warns us today, and Neimoller warned us yesterday, do not go quietly. Do not let your brothers and sisters stand alone.

Cheflag

remembering katrina

buses

I have a Katrina survivor in one of my classes.

Today we were discussing “disposable people” and how it has become common place for corporations to simply move people off the land they want. When these people are considered disposable, they can be moved by execution, air strike, fire, etc. Their lives are less worthy than the land beneath them. Their humanity is unquestionably unobserved by those whose eyes have simply fixated on profit over people.

In the case of corporate greed natural disasters have unnatural results. I saw this in my own neighborhood when the only storage unit in the entire sector burned to the ground. Several elderly African Americans stood outside the ruins in tears while the European American owner of a new trendy breakfast cafe was quoted as saying “Good. That place was an eyesore and it is not the kind of place we want in our neighborhood.” Apparently the owner of Bridges thought her then-1-2 year residence in “our neighborhood” trumped the lifetimes of the families who had lived in the neighborhood and stored their cherished items at the storage unit for generations. She was unmoved by the crying grandmothers just a crosswalk away. Within the year, the storage unit had been replaced by a Mega-Nike store. Within five years the African Americans had all but moved out. The loss, meant that black owned businesses – from the hair stylists to the African Art owners- surrounding Bridges also closed and the empty or decaying buildings left behind where scooped up and gentrified. After all, those are the kinds of businesses “we” want in “our” neighborhood; the kind that don’t discriminate on the surface, whose trendy atmosphere includes liberal discussions about equality, but who seldom serve people of color nor make them feel welcome.

Unlike the fire in my neighborhood, I am not entirely comfortable with calling Katrina a natural disaster. The levies were known to be unstable. The weather reports had all claimed they would not hold. Yet people were left unaware, without transportation nor extensive warning, to die. Interestingly, these people were mostly African American, immigrants, elderly, infirm, and differently-abled. Like those grandmothers in my neighborhood much of corporate America, or at least Halliburton, saw their tears and began rejoicing about replacing them with the people and things “we want in our neighborhood.”

As the country turns from shock to judgment, I cannot help but think of the ways in which domestic policy and foreign policy for MNCs is based on a simple colonial model. Remember colonialism at its most basic was people moving into other people’s countries, pushing them out through force, and replacing them with cookie cutter versions of the fatherland (gender intended) with the added benefit of slavery or indentured servitude. Gentrification is the same thing on a local scale minus the slavery. In the case of rebuilding, if Halliburton runs the rebuild and displaced workers from Louisiana are forced to beg for day work . . . maybe it isn’t minus indenture.

seanpenn

After all, when you threaten people trying to escape a flood with weimageapons, whether you are the police who lined up on Danziger Bridge to stop people from walking out of the disaster with bullets, or famous actors who accompany their helpful boat rescues with vigilantism predicated on racial stereotypes perpetuated by the media, can you really say that there wasn’t a colonial mindset running amuck?

My student told her story of surviving Katrina today. She too made the connection between the global and the local. She said that government sanctioned apathy begins at home. She talked about people being blamed for “choosing” to stay behind even as her own story shows she did every thing she could to leave and is still paying the price for being left behind. She also drew a connection between the turn to victim-blaming and the way this country treats the poor, the homeless, and the sick in general. If citizens of this country as so expendable, then how much easier is it for a xenophobic nationalistic leadership and the MNCs that represent them to expend with people in other nations.

There is one more thing she said, I think we all need to know:

FEMA is currently requesting that aid recipients prove they were New Orleans residents during Katrina. Those who cannot prove it, say there paperwork washed away in a flood for instance, will have to pay back the money FEMA has given them.

This is the most recent tactic in ensuring the 9th ward becomes “the kind of business we want in our neighborhood.”

My class concluded that we would take a lesson from SITRATERCO, the worker’s union for Chiquita workers in Honduras, by telling the stories we know to everyone who will listen and to each other. We will remember the names and the details of those who suffered and those who persecuted. We will speak their stories no matter what. What will you do?

infirm

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