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Sincerely Brooklyn is a lifestyle blog that provides cultural commentary of my life in Brooklyn. With cultural insight and perspective, this is a creative outlet for the beauty obsessed, social and political observer in constant pursuit of great food, great company and fun times. 

Ramblings

Black Generational Divide in the Age of Trump

Sin

Donald Trump and some black people.

Donald Trump and some black people.

What this election has highlighted for me is the deep generational divide in the Black community. What I have seen amongst Black people is not unprecedented and not unlike historical inflections of the past. There seems to be a generational divide amongst the 45 and under (it gets fuzzy in the 40s) who are progressive and ready to resist this presidency at all costs and the older generation who may consider themselves progressives but ready to roll over and cooperate like a secret informant of COINTELPRO. While this is not universally true, I’ve personally witnessed some of the older amongst us take this time to point out some perceived emotional unintelligence and naiveté of us young folks.

That white people are interested in working with Donald Trump, comes at no surprise.

That black people, some 45 days after the election are working to diligently manage the emotional shock and police the outrage of other black folks, is unfortunate.

Anyone who knows me in real life, knows that my love for my ancestors both living and dead knows no boundaries. This is why it pains me to write about the level of disconnect I’m feeling from the very Black, wise, and deeply rooted elders. Their credentials we do not question when they say they walked with Malcolm and sat with Martin. We do not come for them when they tell us that we need to dress a certain way to be seen, validated, and hired. We do not come for them when they inquire about our emotional state when we refuse a Nate Parker movie. We dismiss it when they tell us that Black Lives Matter has not “done anything.”

But, before there was the Kanye West meeting with Donald Trump, there were the old, black ministers, parading this known bigot around their churches in pursuit of some future change from this administration. The old heads spewing their patronizing language to us some 24 hours after the media declared Donald Trump the victor on November 9, 2016, is distasteful. What I heard was not unprecedented but another attempt by the black establishment to police my (and most people in my generation) reaction to the election of Donald Trump. I heard the following:

1.)  Something like: If we lived through slavery, we could live through this. You did not live through slavery. Let’s be both technically and figuratively clear. None of us have lived an oppressive free life but comparing this to the emotional and physical weight of slavery just is not fair. I don’t think there is a person in my generation invested in comparing the two. There are a lot of levels between slavery and Trump. Doesn’t make those levels equal or inferior.

2.)  Ya’ll shocked? Ya’ll didn’t think this could happen? I can hold two truths at once. I can be both shocked and understanding that the very obvious institution of racism in this country is so predictive that it almost guarantees a Trump victory.  I’m of the mind of Ta-Nehishi-Coates when he said in his December 2016 “My President Was Black” piece “The idea that America would follow its first black president with Donald Trump accorded with its history. I was shocked at my own shock." I was shocked because of the media reporting there was a 9% chance he would win. If the weatherman reported there was a 9% chance of rain, I would not bring my umbrella and I would be shocked if it rained. Do I know that even at 9% there is a possibility it could rain..sure. Don't make me less likely to be pissed I forgot the umbrella. I absolutely knew that not just in states like Michigan and Wisconsin where the Forgotten Man narrative is seen as true, that there were educated, middle class white folks who were so anti-Hillary that the this purveyor of ignorance could actually succeed President Obama. But why does my shock offend you so much? Are you so hell bent on being right that you can’t understand how someone, especially those of us who live in the depths of Brooklyn and Harlem surrounded by other progressive black people and liberal whites full of guilt? Is there a shame attached to this shock? Of course. Do we have to brow beat people about it? Nah.

3.)  He’s the president now; let’s give him a chance.  Yea, it’s gon’ be a “no” for me, actually.

4.)  We don’t know what he’s gonna do. Somebody said he walked backed ObamaCare. Somebody said he is realizing the complexities of building a wall. Somebody said he will be softer on his rhetoric. Well, as of yesterday he said he was still building a Muslim registry so, good luck with that, girl.

5.)  The real demon is Michael Pence. This might be ya’lls only winning message. And since ya’ll are so hell bent on negotiating with terrorists, I guess ya’ll want to negotiate with the comically embarrassing one rather than substantially embarrassing one? Again, good luck with that, girl.

6.)  Complaining and protesting will get us nowhere. Says the generation that perfected the art of protest? This is not a matter of IF protests works. We know it does. It has worked to overthrow whole countries (see South Africa and Cuba). It has worked to get us universal free lunch in public schools, funding for low income students, funds to ensure voting integrity, investigations in deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Eric Garner. Would Jena Six still be on the Louisiana chain gang had us college students not gone down in droves to demand their release? We have protested countless inequities that have led to substantive policy changes including the ouster of mayors, governors, attorney generals, and yes, even presidents. Protests have led to wars and peace throughout human history. Just because all you see are bodies on the street does not mean that’s all that is happening.

7.)  This ain’t nothing. My generation was attacked by dogs.  Because oppression Olympics is hot right now? That’s not the winning strategy here. I’m sure your grandmother told you when you were marching for integration how easy that was considering she was probably actually legally held in bondage. The truth is, we are not our parents’ generation. That does not make our struggle less than. We can’t use reductive language to help this generation process what has ultimately been a blow to our generations’ progress.  

We live in a world of divide and conquer. We have the sophistication to bridge the generational ideologies that divide us. You need our energy and we need your historical reference but we both have wisdom. What I’d like to see is for my living ancestors to embody the tenants of Ella Baker who proclaimed the need to help young people lead. I’d like to see my living ancestors embody the spirit of Harriet Tubman who led radical progressivism well into her 90s. I want to see my living ancestors join the resistance movement as pragmatists and diplomats if they will, but understanding that we need radicals as well.

I look forward to the continuing uniting of the community. I have faith that we will intersect in ways that lead to bold action in the future. 

I’ve Been Waiting on Harriet Tubman

Sin

I’ve had the pleasure of loving, creating, and working with incredibly smart people. As someone who is not easily impressed, I have to say that the people that love me the most in this world, the ones who care about my work, who hold me accountable and allow me to think about the depth of my people’s condition are all incredibly smart people.

 

I’ve known for years, especially since leaving the Obama Administration in 2012, that these incredibly smart people were going to save me. They were surely going to save us all. If someone had asked me in 2012 if we could name the exact people, I would have not only named names but titles, given addresses and cell phone numbers of the exact somebodies that were going to save the world.

I thought President Obama himself would personally turn into one of the greatest ancestors of all time and lift all 30 million of us black, under resourced, marginalized and oppressed folk out of subjugation. Yes, I did. I did and my mama did.

And for everyday that went by and we weren’t free, I looked at the ones who were supposed to save us with even more venom. I quietly nudged them. Wrote unsolicited emails. Posted long diatribes on Facebook and texted folk with fervor and criticism. I was waiting on them. The world was waiting on them. Didn’t they know?

Then I thought, they just need more help. They need more people so that they can be the people. And then I thought, they need more money. We need to support them and uplift them and make sure they are resourced so that they can save us.

And then. I looked around at my peer group, those amongst us, who were waiting for the 50 and 40 year olds to be smarter than us and closer to freedom and realized they weren’t necessarily.

Did the ancestors know that they were grand ancestors before they became them? Did Rosa sit on principle or did she believe she was chartering history? Did Ella Baker know that she would live in my mind with infamy before or after she headed the new york state NAACP? Did Michelle know she was marrying the first black president of the United States? Did she know she’d be the glorious thing we’d ever seen? I wonder how much did Harriet know how daring, bold, and audacious she was? Did she know there would be children named after her? Did she know we would think of her often and weep? I wonder how much did John Carlos and Tommie Smith know that they would be made of metal in the National African American museum? How much was Medger Evers waiting for someone to save us before he laid his body down so that we may all know some taste of freedom? And how much did Huey, and Bobbi, and Malcolm, and Zora, Sojourner know that they’d be grand ancestors before they decided to do something.

I’ve been waiting on Harriet Tubman to save me my whole life. That’s just the truth of the matter. I sit in meetings, I say what I know to be the smartest thing I’ve ever said and feel inadequate. I am waiting for Harriet to tell me what to say. I am waiting for Harriet to walk in the room and relieve me of my duties. I’m sitting in her stead, I think. I grow tired of speaking up, and speaking out, and leaning in and leaning out.

Where is Harriet?  

I had, a few weeks ago a pivotal moment in my life. One that I am still trying to unpack. I gathered for an incredible day of fellowship with some of those same people that love me the most in this world, the ones who care about my work, who hold me accountable and allow me to think about the depth of my people’s condition. And something profound came over me, through multiple friends and multiple signs: Harriet Ain’t Coming.

I was like a kid waiting on the next car to be my mama’s. Until I sat there all night and realized, she wasn’t coming.

How much did Harriet step up because of her own agency? Because she knew that if she hadn’t, it wouldn’t be done? And Harriet didn’t have a Harriet either. What she had, that I have and need to harness everyday is a profound sense of courage. Why I am waiting on someone to save me? Why am I waiting on someone to save us? What if this is all to call ME for a time such as this?

The notion that I could touch the hem of her garment and move in the way that she did, in the night, in danger, as a Black woman. My God. She lives in my memory in infamy. She is who I believe Spirit to be and to think that I could ever be such a grand ancestor, I must be delusional.

I’m starting to believe though, more and more each day that we are absolutely the one’s we’ve been waiting on. No matter how much we tell ourselves that there must be someone else smarter, better, more qualified, with a lot more agency, we too have Harriet’s blood running through our veins. How do we take her spirit and legacy and call forth a new level of audaciousness in ourselves? How are we holding ourselves accountable to lead? 

This Uninspiring Election

Sin

 

I’ve never felt so uninspired in my life.

 

Every white girl friend of mines and her mother is posting inspiring reasons to support Hillary Clinton. Every news outlet is trying to scare me but poking fun of a giant that I am convinced is a figment of the media’s imagination. I barely watched the first presidential debate. If it weren’t for twitter I would know very little about the consistent media gaffes being made by Donald Trump.

 

I don’t know if I’m mourning the eventual loss of the fabulousness that is Michelle Obama too soon or if I am trying to preserve my sanity. It’s all just happening too fast. I’m still shocked that Donald Trump went to the US/Mexico boarder after saying such egregious things about our largest immigrant group. But it seems the world has moved on to the new thing. The next big racist, classist, sexist, xenophobic thing he has said. As if this is…normal. 

 

I’m inundated everyday with humanizing stories of Hillary Clinton and accusations of internalized sexism, and downright hateration if I’m not signing every Facebook post with an #Imwithher.

 

I mean, listen. The only her we acknowledging in DC right now is Michelle.

 

I used to believe in something. I used to believe that politics could harness a power in a people so deep that it could shake the very fabric of a nation. I believe in that still. I used to believe that representative government has the power to shift a landscape for generations of people. Like the Voting Rights Act. Like the Civil Rights Act. Like the Good Deal and Obamacare. I used to believe in good government done well and with the people, mainly  with marginalized, underresourced people in mind. I used to be moved by elections. I used to feel fire in my bones that would call forth the grand ancestors in my spirit. I used to feel compelled to walk miles for the dream. For hope. For the possibility of freedom. For a better tomorrow.  

 

Now? I feel nothing.  

 

Perhaps it’s the ill address of my people’s slow genocide played out on national television. Perhaps it’s the lack of awareness that as women, some of us are brown and black, and all of the thee above. Perhaps I don’t see any in’s for me. I don’t hear anyone speaking to my concerns. Perhaps I haven’t heard about how we will fix the judicial system, ensuring police officers be tried by juries and not police union controlled judges. Perhaps I want to hear what these candidates haven’t done to make it easier to live in this skin in this country in THIS time.

 

I don’t ever feel scared. And I want to feel scared. But the truth is, I feel mainly let down and uninspired. I’ll vote on November 8. Because I vote in every election as a matter of principal. But I’ll do so much different than I have before. In a space somewhere between uninspired and unimpressed.  Because if this is all we have, we don’t have much. 

Advice for Police Officers During Black Encounters

Sin

 

Alton Sterling’s blood had yet to be wiped from the concrete in front of the bodega in Baton Rouge before a few Magical Negroes and their protective white allies started to tell us how we should better comply with brutal police encounters to avoid death. My fingers have grown tired of scrolling past all the facebook posts, do-nothing videos, opinion pieces, and step-by-step guides for black folks on how to comply during deadly police encounters. And then, before the paint dried on the protest signs for Baton Rouge, we witnessed how compliance, too can kill you. Philando Castile was met still with death at the hands of yet another overzealous, implicitly bias police officer.

 

I have known, since very early, that as a Black person, I should avoid police at all times. I should not talk to police not even to say hi. I should avoid police. I should not ask questions of police. I should not call them in case of emergencies. I learned very early on that their presence was the most visible, brutal form of white supremacy I could possibly ever face in my life. It was best to avoid them.

 

My most vivid personal memory of police was one hot summer day shortly after Amadou Diallo was shot to death. I was on the northside of Milwaukee, which is and was at the time overwhelming poor and overwhelming Black. I was at my grandmother’s house, full of love, food, spades, and black people. Suddenly, the block went black. It wasn’t an outage as was sometimes common during summer months. The outage lasted 30 seconds accompanied by a level of silence that still haunts me to this day. My grandmother, or someone, I can’t remember, yelled out in remembrance of my brother and cousin who were absent from the home. 

 

When we ventured outside the nightmare began. My brother, not two years younger than me and my cousin not six months older than me, were laying flat on the pavement with rifle barrel guns on the temples of their heads. They were teenagers. And black. And poor. Running through the neighborhood when it was dark and hot. At a time when the police were looking for a black male murder suspect. The fact that nearly half of these police officers were black themselves, never crossed my mind. I just remember police officers’ high level of aggression. I remember the verbal assaults, the physical throwing of my relatives, especially my grandmother. I remember the deep despair and complete helplessness of being fondled, pat down, nearly stripped in front of my neighbors, mother, father, and family. We all were. We were wrestled, nearly one by one as we came out of the house. We were cursed at by black officers as well as white ones. Women and men. And there I was, a straight A high school student, who would go on to serve in the Obama Administration with a master’s degree in tow, was being assaulted on a street corner in the dark by countless “public servants”.

 

What I know about folks in the aftermath of these recent tragedies and the brutal attacks by police officers is that they want to help. What I am unsure of is if they’ve ever encountered a police officer with a quota to fill on a hot summer’s day in the middle of a poor, black neighborhood. I’m not sure that these Facebook philosophers know what that feels like. I’m not sure they see these as more than mere incidences by as an everyday occurrence in Black neighborhoods.

 

So I’m going to give a little advice to the police officers and their friends, as a victim of police brutality and aggression, on how they should interact in the event they encounter the 13% of the United States population that self-identify as Black folk:

 

1.    Don’t Shoot. Now this one may seem obvious but with everything that’s going on the truth is, it needs to be stated. The likelihood of someone being armed and ready to shoot you at a routine traffic stop is little to non-existent. You have to be a pathological lunatic of a police officer to believe Black people are shooting police officers that ask them for their driver’s license. It is nearly impossible. You have a higher chance of being shot by a white man in rural Pennsylvania than you do of a Black man, at 2AM, drunk and speeding and armed, in the middle of downtown Detroit. Don’t shoot.

2.    Don’t assume someone has a gun. What we know for sure is that you are the one with the gun. You are the one trained in near war-like ways to manage a taillight and yet you find yourself on the fearful end? Yea, no. When you ask them to reach for their license, it’s probably in their wallet, and their wallet is probably in their back pocket. Guns can’t fit in the back pockets of blue jeans. People don’t sit on loaded guns. I don’t know what your simulation guide told you but they don’t have a gun.

3.    Don’t tamper with your body camera. There are many organizers who fought long and hard to get you to wear body cameras for the protection of human life. Since you cannot be trusted to do the previous two instructions, we have decided to watch how dangerous you can actually be. Do not tamper with this evidence, it belongs to the people. In the event you do tamper with it, or it magically falls off, the likelihood that you are being recorded killing someone you were sitting on will be recorded. Because again, you can not be trusted.

4.    Don’t yell or become belligerent. You should approach all situations calm. These are taxi-paying citizens who have the right to due process and to not be searched by you. Your presence and pay is not mandated by the constitution. There is no reason that you, the armed one, should be offended by people, especially children, not calling you ‘sir’ or ‘mam.’ Check your ego at the door.

5.    Don’t rape. The level of state sanctioned violence perpetrated by police officers has seemed to reach a feverish peak with videos surfacing. What is really a known secret in many black women circles is the frequency of sexual assaults by police officers. This is especially true of black trans women and sex workers. When you encounter women who rely on police for protection, do not manipulate their situation by causing further trauma and violence by raping them.

6.    Don’t use aggressive force. There is no reason community policing  should entail name calling, stalking, bending them over for your sexual pleasure, and strip searching them in front of their neighbors. Why are you pushing people? Why are you kicking and punching and beating citizens? Why are you so utterly obsessed with violence and domination that you prey on black people?

7.    Don’t lie. There seems to be a pattern here, as with the recent murder of a Brooklyn man by an off duty police officer. You lie first. He claimed to have been beat up so severely before defending himself during road rage. It turns out, he shot his victim within 1 second of him leaving the vehicle. Don’t lie, officer. There is likely a video and we likely know the truth. We don’t need the video because there is a pattern of behavior, but it helps to make sure Wolf Blitzer doesn’t drag the victim’s name through The Situation Room.

8.    Don’t cover for your corrupt partner. What we know is that there is a culture of police behavior that has allowed for these kinds of incidences, regardless of the race of the police officer, to continue to exist. If you see something, you need to report it to the inspector general’s office. You need to record it and give it to your local newspaper but above all, you must speak out against police misconduct.

9.    Don’t fight suspension, expulsion, and termination. Call your corrupt, right-leaning Union and tell them that since they are funded by police officers who are invested in keeping their salary and pension, you would rather them not represent you. Tell them that you don’t believe you are entitled to a job, full pension, and administrative desk duty for murdering a cafeteria worker you thought was about to shoot you but reached for a license instead.

10. Resign. I know your ego told you that policing would make a difference. As a police officer you are controlling marginalized bodies through threat and violence. By joining the police force, you are an instrument within the system of oppression. This has made you one of the perpetrators of domestic terrorism on a marginalized community already beset with inadequate health facilities, the city’s worse and least satisfactory teachers, the highest unemployment rate, and a desert for quality food. You have added to the problem of generational poverty by exerting undue trauma on black children everyday. I know your ego told you that you have secured a good working class American job. I know your ego has allowed you to believe that you are above the law because you are carrying it out. It is a terrible culture with an outdated way of carrying for communities and it’s best you leave it.

 

Listen, police officers are paid by public tax dollars. They are fed by the very people they are oppressing at much higher rates than almost anyone they will encounter in their careers. I know you thought I was going to tell a police officer to go to a soup kitchen or carry some groceries for a needy church usher. But what I really need for the police officers to do is to adhere to these steps. 

My Mother Doesn't Think I Believe in God

Sin

My Mommy :)

My Mommy :)

As an African American, God has always been apart of the culture of my family. We held hands and prayed before every Thanksgiving meal. We shouted “Thank God” when something went our way. We “swore to God” when we were telling a lie and the truth. We listened to Kirk Franklin and the Family. We went to a Baptist daycare center that showed us how to do nightly prayers. Black Jesus with the dreadlocks greeted us every day in the foyer. But there was an unspoken fear of going to church in my family. The judgment and the feeling of not belonging always stuck with me after our once a year voyage on Easter Sundays. 

 

I didn’t grow up in the church, I grew up in poverty. I didn’t read the bible as a child, I read Word Up magazines and tore out the pages of Immature and hung them on my walls in the ‘hood. I didn’t have an old church going grandmother who wore white gloves and drug me to Sunday school. I had a cursing granny who tore me a few food stamps from the book and sent me to buy hot pickles and a box of Dominoes’ sugar for the spades game. My father didn’t play the piano, he smoked weed.

 

What I know about the church, I know from seeking it out myself as a teen. We lived across the street from a church on the northside of Milwaukee during my teen years. Before the pastors left the city in a scandal that rocked the community, I used to visit the teen’s group quite often. I was bored and the kids seemed to have it all. So I joined. I remember the youth group leader’s wife drove into the church parking lot one evening in a cream Cadillac. I’ll never forget that car because even as a teen if you called “bingo” on that car, you won. She was a fair black woman with long, jetblack permed hair and  a college degree she wore on her sleeve. She seemed to me like she had it all. She had a husband who kissed her softly on her cheek in public. She had two children, a son and a daughter. She always had fresh Jet magazines on her car seat and most of all she lived in the suburbs. Wearing a big beautiful hat, she winked at me one day and I followed her across the street. I joined the youth group soon after. The youth group was less about me accepting God and more about belonging to a community of teens whose parents were middle-class and aspirational figures for me. They all had fresh clothes and new shoes. They spoke like we spoke but there was no doubt in my mind we lived in different places. I just wanted to be around them. And so I did. Every Wednesday night, I would sneak into the last hour of “power hour” and then join the youth for church. When I was alone at night, I would talk to “God” about my dreams, the goals I had for myself, and all the ways I wanted to be free.

I don’t know if he ever responded.

Much of my college years were spent in the South, so church was commonplace. I mean, you could party all Saturday night, but Sunday morning you had better be in the church pews.  I learned all the songs, how to pray, and I even joined the college ministry from time to time. It was apart of my culture. I loved getting dressed up and I loved to see the people all dressed up. I missed church when I didn’t go and I loved the messages of hope, solace, and prosperity. In those church pews, I felt like I had arrived.

I don’t think my mother knows, and she’d be shocked to learn I’m sure, that I spent some of my early days as a faith based community organizer. I learned more about the power of faith and traditions there then I had ever learned before. I found out so much about how faith could usher people into a realm of social justice. How ground shifting it could be to center your faith in the middle of justice. I was moved. And I was sold. 

In my twenties, I attended Alfred Street Baptist church in Alexandria, VA outside of Washington, DC. What a dynamic experience that was. It really helped my contemporary understanding of the lessons in the Bible. Alfred Street had traditions but what I loved most was that the pastor talked about real issues and social justice. I needed to be at that place to help me make sense of all the injustices in the world. Much like my work as an organizer, Alfred Street had sold me less on church and more on faith.

My mother, who has since gone on to be saved, sanctified, and humbly filled with the holy ghost, calls me some Sunday mornings to see if I’m going to church. The truth is, here in Brooklyn, I’m rarely at church. These days, Ta-Nehisi Coates is my pastor and Janet Mock is my choir.  I’m so consumed with my questions of church and the commitment to the church community, that I bypass the opportunity every time. I’m also a serious progressive. I’m an unapologetic latte liberal with some revolutionary tendencies and I have some serious concerns about the phobias that are justified in the churches I've visited. And the very thing that drew me to the church, is what has kept me away.

And while my mother probably thinks that I don’t believe in God and I’m raising some kind of heathen in my stinky Brooklyn apartment, my faith has never been more solid. I rise every morning in a meditation of gratitude. Every time I see the sunrise, I am reminded of the magnitude of God that the world cannot control. When I arose in the bush of South Africa to see a mighty elephant, I probably said my most ernest prayer. I know from wince I came. I don’t bless my food before I eat it and I’ve never said I was blessed. But I am no less faithful to the notion of a higher power guiding my life and ordering my steps. And although I haven’t read the Bible in too many years, in my time of need and sorrow, I think of the verses that calm me and still my beating heart. Every time I say amen, I mean it. I mean it with so much intentionality. And every breath I take, I know that to whom much is given, much is required. Although I have some questions about church and God, and the wordly acts of the Godly people, there’s not a Negro spiritual karaoke contest I could ever lose. Maybe my being unchurched has my mother worried for my soul,  I feel alright with God. 

And most of all, I still have an unbinding reverence for my people’s devotion to faith that has carried us from slavery to freedom. And that will never leave my life.