My Open Letter to Kerry Washington

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Dear Kerry,

I have meant to write this letter for a good minute. To begin this quite succinctly, I have two words for you:

I’m sorry.

Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington

I owe you an apology.

Lately, I was beginning to doubt you as an actress.

I admire you greatly as a scholar, graduating from George Washington University with two degrees (anthropology and sociology) and induction into Phi Beta Kappa. As a budding scholar myself, I look to you for inspiration. You show me that black girls from the inner-city like me can duke it out with the best of the brightest minds out there.

I am always pleased by your opinions on issues of race, class, and gender. You are one who recognizes the importance of intersectionality. You give us hope as a figure in the public eye when you assert that post-racism is a myth. We need more figures of influence to express things of this nature vocally.

And even as an actress, there are roles of yours that I will always cherish: Night Catches Us and For Colored Girls being just two of many.

However, recent roles had me a little troubled. I was not too fond of¬†Django Unchained¬†for reasons that have been debated immensely on the Internet, in friends’ circles, film screenings and discussion events everywhere, so I spare the drawn-out explanation. One thing I will say is that I am never fond of damsel-in-distress characters (which is the name of the game in spaghetti Westerns, I suppose).

But it was Scandal that really set me back. I legitimately refused to watch Scandal as the first two seasons aired. I judged the book by the cover; when people told me she had a mistress relationship with the President, I was turned off. Then I heard the President was white, and it immediately reminded me of your character in Django, which infuriated me enough to not watch the show. I would rather see healthy interracial relationships than unhealthy, and I did not want to see Olivia Pope be disrespected in such a way. I thought the show was only going to perpetuate the same narrative from the days of slavery, and that regardless of her occupation, that her relationship would overshadow her feats as a career woman.

Girl, was I wrong.

Kerry Washington in Scandal.

Kerry Washington in Scandal.

I decided this summer to watch the first two seasons of Scandal. I do not remember why; I just did. I went from skeptical, to angry, to sympathetic, to empowered. Olivia was so much more than someone that had this relationship with Fitz; she was selfless. She was passionate. She was strong. She was in love. She was heartbroken, but healing. She represents women who have fought for centuries to be in a position of power, of influence. She represents women who are not afraid being successful. She represents women who struggle with preserving one’s self in the midst of finding love and abundance. She represents women who have fallen, but picked themselves back up. She represents women who are loyal to the ones they love. She represents my mom, my grandma, my aunts, my cousins, my sisters, my friends. She represents me.

(And she ALWAYS dressed fly!)

For you to be the face of Olivia is monumental. For you to immerse herself in her journey is something I now appreciate. For you to draw from the experiences of women, regardless of race or creed or nationality is groundbreaking. But for you to be a black woman in this role is inspiring. 

My best friend wrote a poem about Olivia Pope once and likened her experiences to my own. I did not have an issue with it because she was speaking about her tendency to want to “fix things” even though it may come at an expense to her well being (my life :P), but she did put my name in the poem and I asked her to take it out, saying, “I don’t want to be equated to a mistress!” Needless to say, I now don’t have a problem with it. Because Olivia is nothing like a mistress. And Kerry, you are everything like a beautiful, inspiring woman.

Keep doing what you’re doing, dear.

With love,

Amber <3

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Rachel, I Understand

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Dear Rachel,

Today I tuned in to the live coverage of the trial that is seeking justice in your dear friend, Trayvon Martin. As the cross-examination occurred, a continuation from earlier days, I increasingly became frustrated with the way the defense approached you. Any good defense will attempt to fluster a witness such as yourself, as your testimony does not support their client. But to insult your intelligence and criticize your speech is frankly unnecessary, especially after you continually expressed the facts regarding your phone call with Trayvon on that fateful night in February 2012. What is worse is the terrible backlash of the news media and Internet outlets.

You got this, Rachel! [Pic from For Harriet: http://on.fb.me/11QwSKh]

You got this, Rachel! [Pic from For Harriet: http://on.fb.me/11QwSKh%5D

Rachel, I understood you completely, and there are many people out there that are asserting that very same truth.

What is being asserted as “lack of intelligence” is actually a lack of understanding from those who do not understand our dialect and codes as African-Americans. It is not a dialect that is distinct only to people who “society” believes at the bottom; on the contrary–the most profound and intellectual of African-Americans have a deep understanding of our collective vernacular. It is a beautiful thing indeed.

It is how we communicated to each other on plantations. How we built solidarity within our churches. It is how we sent messages through the Underground Railroad. It is infused in our music, from spirituals to gospel to blues to jazz to hip-hop. It is how we connect and thrive. And what the world must understand is that we do not care if they do not understand us. 

But Rachel, you must be mindful of the fact that the defense will do anything in their power to disable you. I was engulfed in anger just watching the cross-examination, so I can imagine how upset you were on the stand. The pursed lips, the forced “yes sir’s”, the tone of your voice–everyone notices these things, from the defense, to the jury, to the judge, to viewers across the globe. Do not let the defense take control. Disable their examination with the facts, as you have been, and stand firmly on them with a piercing respect that will fluster them. Know their tactics. And most of all, let your beauty shine.

It has already shined into the hearts of countless individuals who are supporting you as you seek justice for Trayvon and his family. Most adults could not endure what you have endured in the name of Trayvon, and you are still standing. Hold on just a little while longer. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

With love,

Amber <3

If you have a love note for Rachel, please post it on The Feminist Wire’s Facebook page with the hashtag #lovenotesforrachel¬†and¬†send your love on Twitter with the hashtag #LoveForRachel.

Sorry for the Wait (No Wayne Though)

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Hi everyone!

I know it has been a long time since my last post, but any college student knows that April signals the push to finals, and my mind has been everywhere doing everything.

But I have some great news. :)

The Feminist Wire, an online publication, recently launched its college/millenial column, and I submitted a post earlier this week.

Today, it was published!

So, instead of writing my own post, I submitted a post to their site, and today it was published!

Now, I will redirect you to my post for the column titled Why I Haven’t Given Up on Hip-Hop Yet. Enjoy!

Stop Calling Chicago “Chiraq”: Addressing our Territorial Empathy

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Really?! (I did not make this. This was found on Google Image search)

Really?! (I did not make this. This was found on Google Image search)

This week was very tough for me. With the senseless murder of 6-month old Jonylah Watkins still stinging the city of Chicago and the nation, as well as the murder of 16-year old Kimani Gray in Brooklyn, New York, every day met me with intense conversations about the bleak path Black America is heading if our communities do not climb out of this despair of violence. I am currently feeling the most militant I have ever felt regarding these issues, and I have not censored myself from my peers. I do not care if people believe I am being overly serious, militant, passionate, etc. I cannot stomach these tragedies happening to my people across the nation.

Speaking from the vantage point of a Chicagoan, “Chiraq” in its glamorized form needs to be rejected within our nation. In the beginning, it was a powerful tool to stir emotion and extract concern from the nation regarding the atrocious amount of murders in Chicago in recent years, but now it has become a term that people outside of Chicago jokingly throw around as well as a term that people from Chicago have tried to reclaim and boast shamelessly about regarding their own love for Chicago. This is just one symptom of the sickness of territorial empathy plaguing Black America. Outside of the deaths of youth that we conceptualize as tragic because of their life prospect (which I dig into later), often we neglect to empathize on a national level, stepping back like it is not our issue if we do not have a personal connection. For those within these cities and communities, the lack of strong, continual support from our own people has caused people to fight this issue on their own or just accept it as normal (cue the “I <3 Chiraq” T-shirts). This vicious cycle is getting us nowhere, and if we do not begin to band together as one movement pressed to save our communities, I do not even want to fathom our future.

During this week, I witnessed a flurry of emotions from my hometown peers: many of grief, some of defense, and some of retreat. We are all embittered and heart-broken that the barrel of the gun has swallowed up the most precious, innocent, and seen-to-be immune of lives: our babies. And when I say “babies”, I do not mean the term of endearment, but literally our infants. While we may have predicted this was the course of the violence swirling our neighborhoods, none of us could have fathomed this to occur. But some of us were met with challenge. Some of us were forced to defend our city in the midst of our peers, and frankly, we are tired of doing so. The simple fact is this: Chicago as a whole is not suffering from this issue, but Black and Brown communities are. One pocket in Chicago can have an atrocious crime and murder rate, while the pocket directly adjacent to the former community has a rate that is slim to none (see homicide rate map here). We are suffering on our own, and this city could not frankly give less than a damn about it. And the same is true in other cities. Gentrification has done a powerful job of structurally encouraging poverty and encapsulating crime and violence in certain areas, the media of dehumanizing the slain, the government of skirting around the issue. When all of this trickles down to the “common person”, the fear is instilled and the empathy stripped away, and it becomes nearly impossible to rally concern. There are times when we feel national support (i.e. most recently the deaths of Jonylah Watkins and Hadiya Pendleton), but often, Black and Brown Chicagoans can end up feeling like the hopeless town crier in the middle of the town square. These are not issues that are contained to Chicago. Cities across the nation are suffering from violence, and we know this. We see the tweets. We watch the news. We talk about it. But often we shrug it off. That needs to end.

I do not want to make this post without addressing the death of Kimani Gray, which I have noticed has not been discussed as often regionally, and that is not surprising nor shameful because Jonylah’s death has ripped the Midwest in a manner I have not experienced before. Nonetheless, Kimani’s story is something that requires our attention. Kimani was shot seven times by New York Police Department officers (three in his back), and while the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg himself defend the actions of the officers without a full investigation complete, many witness accounts and family testimonies deny the possibility of Kimani having a gun, pulling said gun out, or even appearing like a threat to the police. He was even reported by a witness screaming “please don’t shoot me.” While this is a situation that has similarities to Trayvon Martin (which also swept the nation), it is the progression of the vigil (which there is dissension on whether a “riot” broke out), protests in the days following, and the police action that followed that is stunning. The attempts to smother the voices of the people are astonishing. Protests in East Flatbush, the community where Kimani was from, have resulted in 46 arrests. Young black men are being forcefully contained by police, reminiscent of Radio Raheem in Do The Right Thing. People are standing up for their community, speaking out on the injustices in an overwhelmingly peaceful manner (as Michael Skolnik notes on a HuffPost Live segment), and are subsequently being forcefully silenced right in front of our eyes. It is as if I am being thrust back into the Civil Rights Era the more I investigate the story of Kimani Gray. Not much has changed, and best believe, this does affect communities across the nation just as much as it affects East Flatbush.

If you have not already noticed, this is a post to Black America specifically. I understand that for broader America, they need a moral connection to ever conceptualize that African-Americans being slain is a terrible thing. We needed stories like Hadiya or Jonylah or Kimani or Trayvon to receive our soapboxes and speak about the despair in our communities, about police brutality, about sanctioned silence. But for Black America, we need to realize that the prospect of Black excellence (as noted in this podcast) or the sanctity of infancy should not be prerequisites for us to get publicly outraged on a national scale. I am tired of hearing “oh that’s just Chiraq” or “oh that’s just Brooklyn” or “oh that’s just Philly” whenever we hear of murders of youth that’s stories are not so beautiful from Black people, but when we hear of an infant being murdered, we get publicly and unashamedly outraged. Apathy needs to be thrown away. You think this does not happen often, but I hear this so often in Minneapolis. I see this on the Internet. I hear this out of the mouths of young Black Chicagoans. It has got to stop. Because by doing this, we indirectly allow the rest of this nation to do the same thing, which further dehumanizes our struggles in their eyes.

This goes out my Black sisters and brothers whose upward mobility enabled them to flee the neighborhoods that need them the most. This goes out my Black sisters and brothers who mistakenly walk around with a “force field” that disables them from being fully concerned. This goes out to my Black sisters and brothers who are ride-or-die for their own ‘hoods but could care less about anyone else’s. Please here this plea: we must cause a riot over the “Bigger Thomas” figures who lose their lives just as much as the Hadiya Pendleton and the Jonylah Watkins figures if we ever want our communities to be saved. We must cause a riot of young Black boys being killed in South Central Los Angeles and Detroit and Cleveland and Chicago and New York just as quickly as we do in our own hometowns. We must cause a riot over the presumed “thug” or “gangsta” just as much as the honor student. We must cause a riot over the deaths on the West Side as quickly as we do for the South Side. I have faith in us. I really do. My Black brothers and sisters do not just extend my city limits; they are across this nation and across the globe. If we take agency not just for those in our proximity, but those afar, we could then begin to mobilize in a manner that will be revolutionary. I am not saying we have to be perfect. Lord KNOWS I have fallen into apathy, especially in my high-school years. I am not saying that we cannot hold anyone accountable in our communities and not instill some elements of personal responsibility in our youth. But we have to eradicate these territorial notions of safety, security, and who receives our empathy the most.

I leave you all with the song Lupe Fiasco just released in honor of the life of Jonylah Watkins. Stay strong Queens and Kings.