Stop Calling Chicago “Chiraq”: Addressing our Territorial Empathy

Standard
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.

Advertisements

Sisterhood & Solidarity: The Path to Uniting Feminists

Standard

This is a blog post that I wrote for the University of Minnesota Women’s Center. You can find the blog at: http://mnwomenscenter.wordpress.com/. 

——–

In the wake of the Quvenzhane Wallis-The Onion debacle, one voice was uncomfortably noticed as largely silent through the rallying to support the young actress: white feminists. For those who are not familiar with the incident, on the night of the Oscars, the satirical news company The Onion was live-tweeting. They tweeted about Quvenzhane Wallis, 9, who was the starring actress in the film Beast of the Southern Wild, and was nominated for Best Actress. The tweet “jokingly” referred to Wallis as the “C-word”. Despite their satirical nature, many did not find this amusing or satirical, including myself. There are just some who are immune from ruthless jokes, and children are in that category. Feminists of color, predominately Black, instantly rallied around Wallis, and they noticed the appalling silence from white feminists (Clutch MagazinetressiemcMelissa Harris-Perry Show).

This is not the first time that feminists of color have felt slighted by White feminists, and it will not probably be the last. But instead of releasing my stresses with this complex (I have done that enough with my supervisor at the Women’s Center), I want to present a core solution that does not just apply to this specific conflict, but to an entire consortium of conflicts between people that are oppressed and people who have privilege:

Empathize FIRST, Understand SECOND, “Incentivize” NEVER.

The most colossal issue I have noticed in my study of feminism and in my own experiences is that when it comes to the rifts within feminism, there has been this mistake of attempting to understand the issues of feminists of color before empathizing, and when I say “empathizing”, I mean communicating “I am there for you in the midst of your struggle, sister”. THAT’S IT. No “I know what you are going through” or “I understand your pain”. Just simply “you have my support.”

While we appreciate the effort in white, straight feminists to understand the struggle of feminists of color or queer feminists, it is not a prerequisite or a requirement for empathy. This should be extended from the very beginning. So when we look back at the incident with The Onion, we notice that when white feminist voices that did speak out initially, it was to force us to understand The Onion’s intentions, and how is that (defending your male counterparts) standing up as a feminist when your sisters are in outrage?

I say “Empathize FIRST” because it allows for feminists to freely speak for themselves, their pain, their struggles, and as well their triumphs without trying to mold it into a message that is palatable to white feminists’ ears. It can be. It can exist as is and thus empower those proclaiming that message.

I Say “Understand SECOND” because there should be some degree of effort made to understand. We cannot effectively support and advocate for each other if we do not attempt to walk down the path in each other’s shoes from time to time. But this is something that must not be the instinctual reaction when we see our sisters hurting. Empathy must flow from our souls from the beginning, with understanding to follow. But this understanding must be guided by those afflicted within said struggle. I often notice that those in privilege try to create understanding based on their own experiences or knowledge (“I know all about poverty because I took this course on it”), and that’s a no-no. Let those who are experiencing the struggle create the framework that will allow understanding to flow. I know that sounds elementary, but you would be surprised at how many people in privilege do just that.

Lastly, I added “‘Incentivize NEVER” and I included this phrase because there are prime examples of white feminists extending empathy, support, and understanding to groups under oppression for self-interest. I am in the middle of reading Women, Race, & Class by THE Angela Y. Davis, and she devotes an entire chapter titled “The Anti-Slavery Movement and the Birth of Women’s Rights” which thoroughly explains the relationship between early feminists and the abolitionist movement. While there are some true sheroes from the era that cared extensively for the well-being of enslaved African-Americans (cue Prudence Crandall, Lucretia Mott, and the Grimke sisters), it was some of these same women and many others who used the slavery rhetoric to advance their own cause as suffragists. Often they would try to compare their struggles as wives confined to their homes as housewives to the bitter, unrelenting subjugation that American slavery inflicted on enslaved peoples. Looking back, this seems preposterous, but this was a powerful tool for early feminists, and in return, leaders did advocate fiercely for abolition. Female anti-slavery societies were formed by both Black and White women during this time period. But I wonder how involved these women would have been if they did not find some way to make their efforts work in their favor as well. While I boldly believe in supporting the movements of those outside your identity, I do not believe in searching for a reward in return, and if we want to move forward in sisterhood and solidarity femmes, we must do away with this mentality.

With these suggestions in mind, I really do believe we can rebuild the feminist movement to be wholly united while simultaneously empowering all of our identities.