“Re” Was One of Us

Black folks are not a monolith. But there are a few things we share in common. One is that we treat our celebrities as if we know them personally. We follow their life occurrences through our Black-owned weekly newspapers and monthly magazines, which, even now, in the 21st Century, are the primary sources of positive, non-stereotypical news and feature articles about us.  We vicariously share Black celebrities’ successes, their failures, their hopes, their dreams.

Visit any Black hairdressers or barber shop, doctor’s office waiting room, almost anywhere we gather, and you’ll likely hear talk about this or that actor, singer,  rapper, dancer, as if they lived around the corner.   As if they were members of our families. So it was with Aretha Franklin, known by those who were really her friends, and those of us who felt we knew her, as “Re.”

When we talked about her life as we were busy living ours, it wasn’t just idle gossip. Although there was some of that: “Did you SEE what she wore on the TV show last night? Who picks her clothes? LAWD .  .  . !”  But we worried about whether she would be alright following the death of her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, who raised her, initially guided her career, and was both mother and father to her after her mother passed when Re was a child. Or if she was surviving the latest divorce, or truly happy in the recent marriage.

We could identify with everything she sang. The blues and heartache songs: Ain’t no way  for me to love you if you won’t let me. Yesterday I sang a love song but today I sing the blues. Never loved a man the way I love you, but your lovin’ is much to strong, I’m added to your chain of fools. My health is failin’ me, and I’m goin’ down slow.

But it wasn’t all cryin’ and dyin’ with Re. We rocked steady with her, “movin’ our hips from left to right” on dance floors. Found friendship and good times in the neighborhood joint that she sang about in “Try Matty’s: “There’s gonna be a group of people from everywhere in Matty’s this morning. So go on and do your do, try to hurry up and get through, and meet me .  .  . ”

Her songs “Respect” and “Think” expressed the insistence of a people who have seldom received respect in a nation where racism is part of its DNA. Especially “Think”:  “Think about what you’re tryin’ to do to me! .  .  . oh, FREEEDOM!!!”

Offstage, Aretha was well aware of the power she had as an popular entertainer with means to advance our movements for equality and justice. She and her father contributed funds to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization associated with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. She performed in concerts that raised more funds for other movement groups.

She wasn’t always able to fulfill fundraising requests. In 1972, she answered a letter from The Black Panther Party’s Minister of Culture Emory Douglas, who asked if she could perform in an event for the  Oakland, California-based organization. The letter arrived too late, and Aretha had already made other plans. “Nevertheless,” wrote Aretha, “I love what you are doing in the community, and I am looking forward to meeting all of you.”

In 1971, Aretha offered to post bail for California activist and former UCLA college instructor Angela Davis. Davis was accused of complicity in a failed kidnapping attempt in a California courtroom, in which two prison inmates on trial would be exchanged for the release of famous prison author and Black Panther Party member George Jackson, among other prisoners. One of the guns used in the incident was said to be licensed to Davis, and Davis and Jackson were then involved in a relationship.

In a Jet magazine interview, Aretha said she would pay the bail  “whether it’s $100,000 or $250,000.” Davis was a Communist, an economic and political philosophy that many in the U.S. misunderstood or feared. Aretha said she wasn’t helping Davis because she believed in Communism, since she herself did not. “She’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people,” Aretha said. “I have the money; I got it from Black people — they’ve made me financially able to have it — and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.”

Aretha added, ” My daddy says I don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I respect him of course, but I’m going to stick by my beliefs. Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (in Detroit for disturbing the peace) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts .  .   . ”

As she was of the Black community, Aretha was not immune to racism and audacious snark. In 1993, New York Post columnist Liz Smith commented on a gown designed by Bill Blass that Aretha wore on a Fox television program. “She must know that she’s too bosomy to wear such clothing, but clearly she just doesn’t care what we think, and that attitude is what separates mere stars from true divas,” Smith wrote.

In the perfect “Who asked YOU”? retort, Aretha wrote to Smith, “How dare you be so presumptuous to presume you could know my attitudes with respect to anything other than music. Obviously I have enough of what it takes to wear a bustier and I haven’t had any complaints. When you get to be a  noted and respected fashion editor, please let us all know.  P.S. You are hardly in any position to determine what separates stars from divas since you are neither one or an authority on either.”

Even in death, Aretha is treated by some as undeserving of recognition for her artistry. The unpresident in the White House, in his “tribute” to Aretha, saw fit to add, “She worked for me on numerous occasions,” a comment that could be construed as her having been a mere employee, like the maids who cleaned his hotels and casinos.

An article in the conservative-to-right-wing National Review magazine written by Dan McLaughlin, a New York City attorney practicing securities and commercial litigation, “helpfully” noted that Aretha  ” .  .  .was bright-eyed but plain in her youth and heavyset in her older years .  .  .” (Blackfolk translation of white critique: She was ugly and fat).

McLaughlin also wrote, “I might not rate (Aretha) as the single greatest female vocalist of the rock era — Kelly Clarkson and Linda Ronstadt come to mind as more versatile across musical genres and more varied in their emotional resonances .  .  . ”

But we who are Black know well Aretha Franklin’s amazing talents and skills as a vocalist, pianist and musical arranger that unpresidents, certain newspaper columnists and securities and commercial litigation attorneys will never understand, even if the live to be 76, her age when she died on August 16. We’ll miss Re, she whose music informed our lives and our struggle for freedom and respect. Days, even years after her death, many of us will play her records or CDs, remember her performances, and try not to drown in our own tears.

The Late President Bush’s Greatest “Hits”

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My mother taught me not to speak ill of the dead or wish anyone dead. However, it’s not always acceptable to beatify someone just because they died, especially an elected official, a public figure, such as former President George H.W. Bush, who passed on Saturday, December 1.

Various pundits, observers, friends and those who worked for Bush remember him as a dedicated public servant who had the best interests of his country at heart, and someone who was devoted to his family.

But there were things that Bush was involved in that were far from saintly or in the best interests of the U.S. They include:

  • The Willie Horton presidential campaign strategy of 1988. To defeat Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who was Bush’s Democratic opponent in the presidential race, Bush campaign director Lee Atwater came up with the case of Willie Horton, a Black prisoner in the state who was serving a life sentence for murder. While on a weekend furlough, he fled to Maryland, where he raped a white woman. The case was magnified and repeated ad nauseum in a Bush campaign ad,  terrifying people into thinking that as President, Dukakis would be “soft on crime.” which really meant soft on Black criminals. Bush took advantage of white voters’ unfounded fears, and  won on the strength of that ad.
  • The faked “drug buy” in Lafayette Park across from the White House.                During a live speech to the nation on drug crimes in September 1989, Bush held up a plastic bag of crack cocaine to indicate that drug abuse was so widespread and uncontrollable  that drugs were being bought and sold across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park. Turns out that government agents got the bag under false pretenses. Pretending to be drug users, and bought the bag from a dealer who they then arrested. Bush used the bag as justification for harsher sentences and building  more prisons. Today, prison inmates, who are disproportionately Black men, are serving inordinately long sentences for drug sales and possession, while whites serve much shorter sentences for the same crimes, if they serve at all.
  • Bush participated in the Iran-Contra cover-up. Begun under President Reagan, the U.S. secretly sold arms to Iran — which the U.S.  and the world was supposed to be barred by law from doing — and used the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan “contras” or counter-revolutionaries, attempting to overthrow the country’s popularly elected government. That government happened to be left of center. The Reagan/Bush Cold War mentality claimed that if Nicaragua became Communist, so would the rest of Central America, and the region would provide a home to Soviet and Cuban weapons of war. The Sandinista government wasn’t interested in doing any of that, and found itself struggling to feed and educate its people — many of whom are Black and indigenous or “Indian” — while fighting in a war. The arms sales and the cover-up continued when Bush became President. He refused to turn over any information or documents to an Iran-Contra investigation, and even pardoned some defendants involved in Iran-Contra, among them, Secretary of State Caspar Weinberger.

Among the worst “hits” was the assassination of former Chilean ambassador to the U.S. Orlando Letelier, and his assistant, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, in Washington, D.C. on what’s called “Embassy Row,” a section of the city where many nations operate their U.S. embassies.

Leterlier was a very active and vocal opponent of Chile’s ruling dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, who led the 1973 military coup overthrowing the elected, leftist government of Salvadore Allende. Again, fearing a “Communist takeover” of the country, which would do business with Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other left governments  — countries that the U.S. couldn’t control — the CIA played a role in Allende’s overthrow and Pinochet’s becoming Chile’s leader.  Bush was the CIA’s director at the time.

Pinochet was incensed that Letelier was thriving in the U.S. and increasing opposition to his regime. He contacted an American expatriate who was working with DINA, Pinochet’s secret police, to stop Letelier. The American DINA operative formed a group of assassins with three Cuban Americans, and two other men, who planted a bomb on the underside of Letelier’s car, which could be detonated by remote control. And it was — on September 21, 1976, as Letelier was driving to his job at the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank. What was left of the car is depicted in the above photo. The impact of the bomb was said to have severed Letelier’s legs, and blown off his torso. Moffitt’s larynx and carotid artery were severed by a bomb fragment. She choked to death on her own blood.  Letlier also died from his injuries. Moffitt’s husband Michael, who was sitting in the car’s back seat, sustained minor injuries.

After the assassinations, the CIA, under Bush, leaked false information to Newsweek magazine that DINA was not involved in the assassination. But the CIA knew beforehand that something was about to happen when it found that Chilean operatives were headed to the U.S. Those involved in the assassinations were tried and given short prison sentences in exchange for information.  All were eventually acquitted.

As a Black woman I am also outraged that Bush was silent during his presidency about the brutal, white, apartheid regime in South Africa — supposedly to give South African President DeKlerk the space he needed to “reform” apartheid before Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and his election as South Africa’s first Black President.

As a Black woman whose ancestors experienced the terrorism of U.S.-style apartheid and enslavement, I am livid that he allowed another country’s murderers to operate in my adopted city. And I hate that Bush would not hesitate to use Black people and other people of color as “monsters” to scare his base into supporting him and his policies.

I cannot forgive or forget these incidents involving Bush. Any tears I shed this week won’t be in mourning for him. They will be for the people he hurt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Mississippi Goddam!”

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The above exclamation has been making the rounds of social media following this Tuesday’s runoff election for U.S. Senate in Mississippi. It’s taken from a song written by the late singer-activist Nina Simone. It expresses her frustration with Mississippi in 1960s, a time when Black residents and civil rights workers were terrorized by whites who did not want Black people exercising their constitutional right to register to vote, and to vote in elections. They did not want Black children integrating public schools, Black families buying homes in all-white neighborhoods, or competing on an equal basis for jobs. Segregation ensured that whites would be in power and rule the state forever.

As a result of its rigid racism and its decades-long fight against change, Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the country. It ranks 48th in its economy compared to that of other states. In opportunity and infrastructure it ranks 49th. It ranks 45th in fiscal stability. Only 31 percent of its population has a college education, which underscores its ranking of 46th in education, and 47th in educating children from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

So it makes no sense that the majority of the state just elected a Repugnantthug woman, Cindy Hyde-Smith,  to the U.S. Senate, someone who agrees unquestioningly with the un-president’s positions on everything and votes accordingly. Someone who, only days before this week’s runoff election against the Black Democratic opponent Mike Espy, “joked” that if a friend invited her to a public hanging, she would be there in the first row.  For a state known for its violent opposition to racial integration, which often expressed itself in whites hanging Black people, that “joke” was decidedly unfunny.

But the publicity around the her comments did little to stop her from winning the U.S. Senate seat, by a vote of 53 percent to Espy’s 46 percent.

Espy would have been the better choice. The grandson of Thomas J. Huddleston Sr. who founded a Black fraternal society in Mississippi that operated the Afro-American Hospital, Espy earned his undergraduate degree from Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington, D.C. He received his Juris Doctor from the Santa Clara University School of Law in California. He later worked in the Central Mississippi Legal Services. He served as the Assistant Secretary of State to the Mississippi Legal Services, and the Assistant Secretary of State to the Public Lands Division.

Espy was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi in 1986, the first Black person to represent the state there since Reconstruction. He served three more times. In 1993, Espy was appointed by President Clinton to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he served from 1993 to 1994. During his tenure he was accused of accepting gifts and misusing government “perks.” Although he was charged with receiving improper gifts in 1997, resulting in his resigning from the Department of Agriculture, he was acquitted of all charges in 1998.

Upon returning to the private sector, Espy advocated for poor people in Mississippi, and for Black farmers through his legal representation of the National Black Farmers Association.  He became a staff attorney at the national law firm of Morgan & Morgan.

Given his background, Espy might have brought about some much-needed reforms in Mississippi, which would have benefited all Mississippians, and raised the state’s lower-than-the-bottom status in just about everything. But despite his credentials, Espy still lost to Hyde-Smith, who was educated in the state’s segregated private “academies” rather than attend desegregated public schools with Black students. She, in turn, sent her daughter to such “academies.”

If there’s any remaining doubt that Hyde-Smith is a daughter of the Confederacy, take a look at her photo (above) in which she wears a Confederate soldier cap and proudly displays a rifle.

Then there are the Black Mississippians who voted for Hyde-Smith. One of them was, ironically, Charles Evers, brother of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, who in 1963 was shot and killed in front of his own house by a white man,  a member of the White Citizens Council, the suit-and-tie version of the Ku Klux Klan.

Many voters, Black and white, claimed that they voted for Hyde-Smith as the “lesser of two evils.”  What is more “evil” than a U.S. Senator who embraces her Confederate “heritage” and the implied racism that goes with it?  All one can do is is shake one’s head and decide that there are things one can never understand. It’s just the way it  is in  Mississippi. Goddam.

 

 

If You Think It’s Racist NOW. . .

Television commentators and everyday folks on the street are saying that they have never seen the U.S. as imbued with racial hatred as it is today.

And they place this attitude squarely at the feet of the un-president. He who has made speeches at his political rallies that the hundreds of Central American refugees fleeing to the U.S. to escape persecution in their nations of origin are “invaders,” “terrorists” and “criminals” with “unknown Middle Easterners” among them. Who has disrespected three Black women reporters who cover the White House, calling one “stupid.” Who has said Congressperson Maxine Waters of California, who is Black, has a “low IQ.”

Hate crimes spiked upward last year under the un-president. FBI statistics released this month indicate that 7,175 hate crimes took place last year, an increase from 6,121 in 2016. Three out of five hate crimes were against ethnic and racial groups. One out of five targeted religious groups.

But the last two years isn’t the only time in U.S. history that such hatred has been out in the open, seemingly unrestrained. Ask your grandparents, your great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, if they are still living, if they remember seeing, or hearing about, Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi  (1877-1947), or Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina (1847-1918). During their active years in government, more than 3,000 Black people were lynched in the South.

Tillman and Bilbo were both Democrats, or “Dixiecrats” at a time when the party was dominated by white Southern racists. The Republicans were the “liberals” then, and had earned Black peoples’ support as the party of President Abraham Lincoln which freed their ancestors from enslavement.

Tillman made his political career as a champion of poor white farmers, and a scourge of rich whites and all Black people. He was a member of a “rifle club,” or “Red Shirts,”one of several in his state that existed to terrorize and kill Black people, especially those who had entered political office during the South’s Reconstruction period, and those who tried to exercise their right to vote. He boasted about his role in the Hamburg Massacre, in which six Black men who had done nothing were murdered. “The leading white men of Edgefield (city in South Carolina) (seized) the first opportunity that the Negroes might offer them to provoke a riot and teach the Negroes a lesson,” he said.

As a governor of South Carolina, Tillman was responsible for many of its Jim Crow (segregation) laws, and created a new state constitution that prevented Black people from voting or holding elected office. A staunch white supremacist, Tillman opined that educating Black people means ” .  .  . you educate a candidate for the penitentiary or spoil a good field hand.”

In a 1900 U.S. Senate speech, Tillman supported white men in his state who had murdered Black people by characterizing the victims as “hot-heads” who brought their murder on themselves. Black men in the South, he said, had to be killed. Whites would   .  ” not submit to (the Black man) gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.”

Mississippi Senator Bilbo (pictured), like the current un-president, was effective in using the news media to spread hatred. The radio was Bilbo’s Fox News. Commenting on the severe beating  by whites of a Black World War II army veteran in Mississippi who tried register to vote, Bilbo told his radio audience, “.  .  . every red-blooded Anglo-Saxon man in Mississippi (must) resort to any means to keep hundreds of Negroes from the polls .  .  . And if you don’t know what that means, you are just not up to your persuasive measures.”   A lifetime member of the Ku Klux Klan, Bilbo attempted to be taken seriously as an author when he wrote and published his book, “Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization.”

Bilbo supported lynching as a way to keep Black people in their “place.” During a filibuster against an anti-lynching bill pending before the Senate in 1938, he insisted that passage of the bill “will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots and crime will be increased a thousandfold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for the passage of the measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie, as well as the blood of the perpetrators of these crimes that the red-blooded Anglo-Saxon White (sic) Southern men will not tolerate.”

The current racist atmosphere is nothing new. Many of our ancestors survived the Tillmans, the Bilbos, and worse. Because of them, we are here. We owe it to our progeny to get through this. And to be strong. We are the descendants of the enslaved Africans they could not kill.

Thank Goodness The Pittsburgh Shooter Wasn’t Black!

I was listening to a local radio station in my car last Saturday when the “breaking news” was broadcast: An unidentified gunman had shot up a Jewish religious gathering, killing and wounding several people. Another “breaking news” story aired about 20 to 45 minutes later which said police had apprehended the suspect, Robert Bower (pictured).

“What’s his race?” I muttered under my breath to myself. “What is he?

When I was safely able, I scrolled through national news on my cell phone. The police had announced the suspect’s name. I looked for any photos of the man, and finally there is was. Robert Bower.  White.

I felt so relieved. And relief in learning that someone associated with gun violence resulting in casualties isn’t something unexpected in the Black community. History has taught us that any violence where white people are murdered and the suspect has not been identified yet, means the white gaze will focus on Black folks or other people of color. And that could mean danger for the Black community.

I remember other instances when I was growing up that involved national news stories about mass murders and my mom, or friends’ parents, were heard to say, “At least he wasn’t Black.” Throughout the nation’s history, crimes said to involved Black perpetrators and white victims galvanized white communities into attacking random Black people, whether they had anything to do with the crimes or not. Especially in the Deep South, there were stories of self-appointed white vigilantes, often the Ku Klux Klan, coming for someone they thought was the suspect.  If they had a name, the person was likely to be dragged out of his home, with his wife and family helpless to protect him as they watched, screaming and crying. The person wouldn’t last the night. The next morning, the person’s body would be found hanging at the end of a rope, the other end of said rope tied to a tree limb. The lynching served as a warning to the rest of the community: This could be you. Watch yourself.

The most infamous case of vigilante “just us” in the 20th Century was that of Emmett Till, the young Black teenager who was beaten to a pulp, and whose body was thrown into a Mississippi river by a group of outraged white men for supposedly wolf-whistling at a white woman. Decades later, the woman in the incident admitted that she had lied, and Till was innocent.

The “just us” attitude arose again after the terror attack on the World Trade Center Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a commercial airplane. Anyone walking down any city street wearing a turban or otherwise “looking Arab” could be accosted and beaten by any whites as revenge for the terrorist attacks.  At least then, there was a President who said in a nationally broadcast statement that not all Middle Easterners are terrorists, and we should all unite against terror because those who committed the 9-11 acts wanted to divide Americans.

But today’s “leadership” loves to amplify racism, especially during election season. As we head into the midterm elections, Repugnantthugs have adopted a not-so-new strategy of blaming the nations’ ills on Central American immigrants, those men, women and children who have risked everything to walk hundreds of miles on foot to get away from gang and political violence in their home countries. They are merely seeking asylum in the U.S. once they cross into Texas from the Mexican border.

But taking a page from their hero, the unpresident, Repugnantthugs running for seats in the U.S. House and Senate are painting these refugees as potential terrorists and criminals, a ploy they hope will generate so much fear and panic among white voters that they view such candidates as the only thing standing between them, whites, and certain mayhem and murder.

Two glaring examples of how to use fear and hate politically are the campaign TV and radio ads of Repugnantthug Corey Stewart, who is running against Virginia’s incumbent U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat. The fear-mongering ads call Democrats the party of “mob rule” that “dishonors our flag,” “raises our taxes” and “ridicules our traditional beliefs.”

Stewart claims Democrats want to “open our borders” to Central American refugees, who he describes as wild and uncontrolled criminals who will “assault our daughters, murder our sons, and sell drugs.” Shades of the early 1900s movie “The Birth of a Nation,” in which Black men were depicted as animal-like criminals bent on sexually assaulting all white women!

But playing to fear and racism apparently remain effective in politics. as well as inspire hate crimes. That’s why we’re seeing more unprovoked attacks and harassment of Black people and other people considered “minorities.” It was behind the shootings in Jeffersontown, Kentucky this weekend, where Gregory Bush, a white man, shot two Black people in a Kroger’s grocery store. Before that he allegedly tried to enter a Black church and murder its occupants.

The heightened fear and racism rests squarely at the feet of the Repugnantthug Party members and its nominal “leader,” the unpresident, who have been scapegoating people of color and praising white nationalism ever since 2016 when the party won both houses of Congress and the unpresident began his four years in the White House. I hope that in November, white voters wise up, stop falling for candidates who fan the flames of unfounded fear and racism, and vote intelligently. Otherwise, people of color in particular will have to continue to cringe whenever some unbalanced individual shoots up a shopping mall,  movie theater, grocery store or church, and worry about the implications for their families and communities if the unidentified perpetrator turns out to be “one of us.”  And we’ll then hope that white reaction to the crime isn’t “mob rule.”

 

 

“We’ll Never Turn Back!”

A friend of mine, who like many  of us is observing Repugnantthug’s various attempts to block people of color from voting in the November 6 midterm elections, recently wrote on his Facebook page, “In case you hadn’t noticed, we are in the Civil Rights Movement all over again!”

One of the means to equality and power the racists of the previous Movement era tried to take from us was our right to vote. It’s happening again today, and not just to Black people.

In North Dakota, a lower court ruled that only residents with street addresses and voter IDs listing their addresses could vote in state elections. The ruling, in effect, disproportionately disenfranchises thousands of Native Americans in the state, many of whom are on reservations where they have only post office box numbers, not street addresses, or street names.

Although the voter ID law permits state residents to use utility bills or paycheck stubs as alternative identification at the polls, the high rates of homelessness and unemployment among the state’s Native Americans doesn’t solve the problem.

The Native American Rights Fund, a civil rights group, appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, where alleged high school rapist Brett Kavanaugh, who has never met a civil or women’s rights protection he liked, had recently been sworn in as a justice. To no one’s surprise, the high court, now dominated by right-wingers, upheld the lower court rule on October 9, denying the Fund’s emergency application to stop North Dakota’s discriminating voting law.

The roots of the law are in the election of North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp in 2012. That’s when the state government passed the voter ID law. Senator Heitkamp is the only Democrat from the state to hold a national office. The Native American vote was significantly instrumental in her victory.

This year she has to defend her place in the Senate against Repugnantthug candidate Kevin Cramer, who is apparently the leading candidate in the run-up to the midterms. Senator Heitkamp was one of the Democrats who voted against confirming Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, a major talking point for North Dakota Repugnantthugs pushing their conservative base to vote against her in record numbers.

A recent study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic Magazine listed the various underhandedly creative ways Black and Latino voters are being prevented from voting: Moving the location of polling places in communities of color at the last minute. Closing polling places early, making it certain that Black and Latino  voters who can’t leave their jobs early to vote won’t arrive before polls close. Not mailing out notices to them that they will have to re-register because they moved out of their previous voting districts. “Purging” voters rolls of the names of voters of color, and not informing them.

Currently all eyes are on the state of Georgia, which could get its first Black and first female governor if Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams wins the election on November 6.  But Georgia, part of the Old Confederacy of Southern states that hasn’t quite gotten over losing the Civil War and their “right” to enslave Black folks, is having none of it.

Repugnantthug gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp is deliberately holding up 53,000 new voter registration forms, 70 percent of which were filed by new Black registrants.

He claims there are discrepancies in the paperwork.  He also happens to be Georgia’s Secretary of State, which oversees voting and election matters. What a coincidence, huh? Somebody should have reminded him about conflict of interest, and how he should have resigned from his post in order to run for governor.

Earlier this week, in Georgia — AGAIN! — a bus from a community center in Louisville that was set to transport Black seniors to vote, was prevented from leaving. The passengers were ordered off the bus. The trip was sponsored by a group called Black Votes Matter, which owns the bus (pictured above). Someone in a car driving past the bus reportedly phoned the county commissioner’s office to complain of impropriety  (“Voting Vickie”? There are such cute nicknames for whites who call law enforcement because we are “Existing While Black!”) The county administrator’s office issued a statement which said the community center does not allow “political events” to be conducted during its regular operating hours. The statement said center operators felt “uncomfortable” allowing seniors to leave the facility with an “unknown” entity. These are grown folks. Why couldn’t they go where they wanted?

During the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (“Snick”), whose brave twenty-something Black and white college students who went South to register Black people to vote, faced death and intimidation by the resident racists for their efforts. But they persisted, shoring up their courage through their song and slogan, “We’ll never turn back.” We shouldn’t let today’s racists turn us back, either. Let’s out-trick the tricksters and vote anyway.  It’s what our ancestors, and those civil rights stalwarts who went before us, would have wanted.

 

Congress and the Court

Judge Brett “I Like Beer” Kavanaugh is the newest member of the United States Supreme Court, despite allegations that he had sexually assaulted a high school teen when he was in high school, possibly displayed inappropriate sexual behavior while he was a student at Yale, and was an angry, out-of-control drunk in high school and college,

The Repugnantthug Senate, eager to place a right-wing conservative in the high court who, with his majority conservative colleagues, would rule to reverse more than 70 years of social and political progress, ignored the charges, and rushed through the nomination process.

But all is not lost. Congress has always had the power to pass or amend legislation which would soften the impact of a  negative Supreme Court ruling.

An article written by Jennifer Mueller (no, she’s not related to that OTHER Mueller!), describes what Congress can, and can’t, do. ” .  .  . in 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal civil rights law that protected people with disabilities from discrimination did not apply to the airline industry,” Mueller wrote. “However, Congress meant for that law to apply to airlines. Congress responded to the decision by passing a new law, the Air Carrier Access Act, that applied specifically to air travel. While this had the effect of protecting the rights of disabled people traveling by air, it didn’t overturn the court’s decision. The earlier law still doesn’t apply to the airline industry.”

According to Mueller’s description, the high court couldn’t easily rule to eliminate legal abortions which were protected under its  decision in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case. Building on the precedent already set by the Supreme Court, Congress could theoretically pass laws that protect exceptions to the rule, restoring women’s right to determine when, how, and under what circumstances they may decide to continue a pregnancy to term; only if doing so does not threaten the life of the mother, cause psychological harm to the mother, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

Only a progressive Congress would opt to create and pass laws that change or weaken the effect of a high court ruling in this manner. Which makes it all the more crucial that all Americans who are eligible to vote participate in the midterm elections on November 6. The nation must have a Congress that understands the needs and rights of its citizens. It does not have that under the current Congress. Our votes are the only thing standing between the rule of law and law by “rulers.” Run, don’t walk to the polls on November 6. The power to protect our hard-won rights is in your hands.

Kavanaugh, Ford, and Why Black Women Should Care

As Gomer Pyle, a character in a  popular 1960s TV sitcom used to say in an exaggerated Southern accent, “Sur-PRAHZ, sur-PRAHZ, sur-PRAHZ!” ‘What’s surprising is that anyone thought a severely restricted FBI “investigation” into charges that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey  Ford when they were in high school would actually come up with anything.

Of course it wouldn’t. The “investigation” was limited by the unpresident. The FBI was only given a few days to interview a handful of people who could corroborate Dr. Ford’s account of a drunken Kavanaugh pushing her onto a bed and forcing himself on her. There were many more who could have been interviewed  about the incident, including Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh himself.

But it wasn’t a real “investigation.”  The unpresident only wanted the FBI to look into the matter just enough so he could pretend concern, claim that nothing happened, and provide enough cover for the Repugnantthugs on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate to confirm Kavanaugh and rush him onto the high court bench.

Lately I’ve heard of some Black women who have dismissed the entire affair as having nothing to do with us. But it has everything to do with us.

Historically, Black women have been disproportionate victims of rape, beginning with the enslavement of our African ancestors. The white “massas” would routinely sexually assault enslaved Black women because they could get away with it. There were even rapes of enslaved Black women by white captains and crew of slave ships traveling from Africa through the Middle Passage to the U.S.

After the Civil War and the so-called emancipation of the enslaved, the rape of Black women by white men, especially in the South, increased. Like the white lynching of Black men, rape was a means for ensuring that Black women would stay in their “place.” Raping Black women was also considered a rite of passage for white boys. They could have their first sexual experience via raping Black women since we were not considered human.  White women were off limits as they were to remain pure and virginal until marriage.

Today, Black women and other women of color are still treated as sexual objects with no agency over their own bodies. Eighteen percent of women who are raped in their lifetimes are Black. Eleven percent are Latinas. Thirty-four percent are Native American (American “Indian”) or Alaskan indigenous women, twenty-four percent are mixed race, and six percent are Asian or Pacific Islander. Seventeen percent are white.

Much was made of why Dr. Ford waited 30 years to come forward with her allegations against Kavanaugh. As seen during her recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, many Repugnantthugs on the panel challenged Dr. Ford’s credibility, and defended Kavanaugh’s “integrity” and “innocence.” Even the unpresident’s spin on the incident was that “our boys,” meaning young white males, are going through trying times due to women charging them with rape, whether they committed the crime or not. He even made fun of Dr. Ford’s testimony about her alleged sexual attack by Kavanaugh.

Black and other women of color who are rape victims have even less reason to report what happened to them to police or hospitals, because they fear they will not be believed. Black women in particular are wrongly stereotyped as hyper sexual and seductive, and are accused of “inviting” rape.

In this period of the Me Too and Time’s Up movements, there was hope that more men in power would finally be brought to justice for rape. Actor-comedian Bill Cosby was convicted for serial rapes. Film mogul Harvey Weinstein and other film and television executives have been indicted or fired from their jobs after several of their victims told their stories to the news media.

Whatever happens to Kavanaugh and his Supreme Court nomination, and however much white men claim that they are the innocent victims of “unfounded” rape charges, more women are refusing to be silent about their victimization at the hands of white men. Black and other women of color are also overcoming their fears of speaking up, not only about white men and rape, but Black and men of color who rape. We women who are Black and of color are starting to understand that we are not being “disloyal” or “race traitors” if we report those of our men who rape.

Rape was never about sex. It was, and is, about power. The lesson of the Kavanaugh-Ford incident for Black women and other women of color is that it is imperative that we stand up for ourselves against sexual assault by the powerful, despite the very real possibility of  our being disbelieved or ridiculed.  By doing so, we reclaim our power over ourselves and our bodies. And we send a message to the powerful that they will no longer derive their power over us through rape, because they will no longer have us as victims.