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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

The Country of Ferguson and their Police

Sin

(Republished from 2014)

The Black man they now say we change the day

The Black man they now say we change the day


In the devastating days that have followed the atrocious murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, many have called for diversity in the police force. Tear gas, rubber bullets, militarized tanks, automated guns pointed as civilians, all perpetuated by local police agitation. The nucleus of the incident, the murder itself, was perpetuated by a police officer. And yet in the aftermath, the morally outraged are calling for a solution by the recruitment of more officers of color. As if everyone who is our skin folk is our kin folk?

In New York City alone, 47% of the uniformed police force are people of color. In leadership roles, that number begins to shrink, but the NYPD continues to be one of the most diverse police forces in the country. With all this diversity however, we continue to have historical incidences of police brutality and murders by the NYPD of black and brown unarmed civilians. The idea that more Black and Brown officers will reduce the occurrences is not a complete solution.

The outcry for diversity is a simplistic one deeply rooted in a search for solutions that beg a more intense and complex journey into cultural understanding. We should not continue to search for additional officers of color, who may still see Black and Brown bodies as hostile, without making an intense and systematic effort at  tackling the cultural incompetence that permeates the very fabric of many of our institutions.


When I look up from headlines that leave my heart broken, mind bruised, and body stiff, I am proud of the people of Ferguson who have taken to the streets to announce their discontent. This discontent with the forced notion that they should be adjusted to slain bodies. I am awe of their bravery and by their resiliency to be stable amidst a sea of heavily armed policemen of all colors who are carrying out escalation tactics, intimidation, and terrorism.

One of at least two officers of color who shot and killed Sean Bell

One of at least two officers of color who shot and killed Sean Bell

The excessive use of force at the hands of state-sanctioned and tax payer police has a direct correlation to cultural incompetence. It was an African American police officer who started the assail of 50 bullets into the car of Sean Bell. Howard Morgan, a Black Chicago police officer was shot 28 times by fellow white officers who pulled him over for a driving the wrong way down a one way street. The death of unarmed Black and Brown men in New York City alone has reached genocidal levels by officers of all colors. It has been noted in several studies, that officers of any socio-economic backgrounds and ethnic/racial groups, continue to target people of color at unprecedented rates whether or not they perceive them to be armed or not. Such studies have found that officers continue to make deadly and bias decisions with victims of color.


Black police officer shot by white police officers. (I DO NOT OWN THIS PICTURE)

Black police officer shot by white police officers. (I DO NOT OWN THIS PICTURE)

Hiring more police officers of color solves no more of a problem than hiring more teachers of color. Just as we hear teachers of color complaining about Black pathology, sucked into the never ending trap that poverty raised, people of color have somehow caused this level of strain, miseducation, and violence upon themselves, so have police of color. I am less concerned about the color of the police officers, than I am about the bureaucracy and institutional policies that have allowed cultural incompetence and racial profiling to persist in the police force. The police force is indicative of our larger country-wide problems, only they legally carry guns that are supposed to unquestionably warrant our respect.


If we begin to call for a more culturally competent police force, one that values Black lives and see us as human beings worthy of love, respect, and a second chance, we will reduce the number of fatalities. If we begin to call for officers who as less interested in calling for Black folk to be still, to be peaceful, to be meek, to ‘think’ and more understanding of the immediate need to release feelings of tragedy through their footseps, we will begin to reduce the number of tear gases thrown into the eyes of innocent children of color. If we call for both Black and White officers to understand intimately the communities they serve, the historical reasons these neighborhoods exist and the very institutional conditions for their despair, then we wouldn’t have to deal with Black police officers carrying out the very same excessive use of force as their White counterparts. If we had everyday Black folks, the ones who are calling for a refocus on Black on Black crime, understand the magnitude of the need for gun reform, then we wouldn’t be dealing with as many assumptions of Black criminality. If we had less people calling for poor, marginalized, people of color to exercise restraint and social maturity, and more people understanding that an outcry, a shared community aggression, to go out of ones mind, is an act of social pain worthy of political theater. If more police officers who lined our streets understood that people are wounded, moved in ways that their mind cannot fully comprehend, then perhaps I would feel more safe talking to a police officer. If there were more police officers whose hearts dropped as many other conscious Americans did at the news of Michael Brown’s death, then we would be moving in the right direction.


I want police offers who ache for those people. For their people. Officers who understand resiliency, pain, and the intersectionalities of race, class, and rage. Officers who understand that riots are the temporary residue of rebels’ reaction to pain. Officers who know that whenever people march, it is a visible sign that they are doing their jobs poorly.

 

We need to call for a better police service.  An understanding at the highest levels that in order to decrease the epidemic of police sanctioned violence, we need to move beyond just the hiring of Black and Brown soldiers carrying out culturally incompetent polices. We need diverse leadership who carry with them diverse ideas that recognize the historical inequities, provide extensive trainings to address the disparities in the treatment of marginalized people, and swiftly get rid of the structural drivers that allow police officers who exhibit, test, and act out aggressions against people of color. We need to call for the full implementation of Inspector General offices to consistently investigate police departments and vet incoming officers extensively on their attitudes toward people of color prior to joining the force.

It is my hope that while we call for ceremonial and meaningful policies that include a more diverse police force, we think of diversity not just in color but also in the progression of racial thought. It is my hope that as we increase the recruitment of officers of color, we are less inclined to think of Clarence Thomas as a quality choice just because of the color of his skin. I hope that we are more inclined to test officers through simulation on their reaction upon seeing a person of color in the fog of the night reaching for a wallet. I would like to call for an increase in age, an increase in educational attainment, an increase in cultural worldview of every police officer. Every victim of a police tragedy deserved more and every forthcoming victim would surely need one to take a second look before shooting.

The Story of Black Women on Election Day 2018

Sin

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I sat with a black woman in Shelby County, trying to wrap my mind around the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate, Phil Bredesen who just days prior noted that if we were a sitting senator, he would in fact vote for the Trump nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bret Kavaughn. Accused of attempted rape and known to be an overly zealous drinker, Kavaughn in my neck of the woods was all but ineligible to even be a nominee to the highest court in our democracy.  This was well after Dr. Ford testified in the affirmative. I couldn’t even imagine being represented by anyone who wouldn’t find the mere allegations repugnant. But, this black woman, noted for me that Bredesen’s challenger, Marsha Blackburn was much more of a monster and that she wouldn’t be distracted by Bredesen’s comments because in the end she’s going to do “what she has to do.”  

And I understood.

Because my mother had struggled tremendously to raise us as children but in the end she “did what she had to do.” And the black women in Alabama who became Roy’s Moore’s most reliable electorate “did what they had to do.” And the 96% of black women who voted in 2016 for anyone but Donald Trump but found Hillary Clinton’s insistent lack of  humility around the usage of words like “predator” to describe black men her husband criminalized and institutionalized well into the millions, “did what they had to do.” And even while black women make up a sizeable base for the Democratic Party and only account for 1% of United States senators, and less than 3% of United States representatives, black women consistently “do what they have to do.”

 

And today is election day.  And we will, as black women have always done, do what we have to do.

 

Black women, in the past, right here and now, everyday in the future, NEVER DISAPPOINT. Never. You will know that we rise, we go to work (the many ways we work), we endure, we come home, and we pull every tool out of our tool box in the name of our absolute own agency.  Even when our toolbox has been stolen like the many voter registrations that have been purged from the rolls in Georgia. Even when we will be docked an hour’s pay by relentless bosses who refuse to compromise for employees who live in counties where there isn’t even a single polling location. Even when it rains. Even when we are late picking up our children or other people’s children. Even when the value of voting is theorized and made a conspiracy in our own homes, we do what we have to do. WE VOTE.

 

We absolutely are Harriet’s daughters.

 

We believe in our own survival more than anyone’s. We don’t need anyone to tell us what it means to be marginalized, to be embarrassed, to move on in a world that requires us to suffer daily. It does my aunts, my mother, nor I any good to live in the corners of news stories.  To wash our anxieties in polls. We don’t get to be wrapped up in in the ideologies. We don’t theorize, we move. We survive by pulling whatever lever of change we can. We do as we are told by our bodies, to always do what we have to do. We do it in pain. In strength. In conviction and lack there of. In our limits. In spite of. On the backs of. In the name of. In the spirit of. With the burden and none of the victory. Through the patronizing and doubt. Through the lack of donations for our own candidacies. We do. We give. We take it to the field, we leave it all there, and we never let the fire replace the duty. We trust. We verify. We dignify. We validate. We do so as the women before us. By grace. And with humility. And gratitude. Loud. And silent. As one. And as many. We vote.

 

For Stacey. And for Andrew. And for Antonio Delgado in New York. For Mandela in Wisconsin. For Debbie Stabenow in Michigan. For Lucy McBath in Georgia. For Beto in Texas. For Heller in Neveda. For Ayanna. For the glass ceilings and for the positions we’re overqualified for.  For every street we’ve canvassed. For every voter we called. For every lit we’ve dropped. For every bottle of water we dropped off at every polling location. For every volunteer. For every lawyer. For every black woman who is too upset to lean in to this election. For every black woman who bought a plane ticket. For every black woman on the road to a field office. For every train ticket. For every black college girl canvassing for the first time. For every dog that chased you. For every piece of data you put into the system. For every brunch. For every voter registration you put in. For every dollar you donated. For every house party. For every moment, every thought, every ounce of your energy you gave to this election. When it hurt. When it left you in astonishment. When they spent too much airtime on winning back white women and losing white working class men. I appreciate you beyond my level of ability to express it.

I thank you. For what you do. For what you’ve always done. For doing what you have to do.

For the pundits who ever doubted us. And the white women who refuse to follow us.

In black women we trust. Our agency has always been stronger than our pride.

And to the places where we lose. I am so proud today to be a Black woman in this country on this day because I don’t see need to see the results to know that Black women did what they had to do. Because I know that my sisters got me, as they always have. And as they always will. This ain’t on us. Never was.

What Bryan Stevenson Taught Me About Justice

Sin

 

Reading the reviews of Bryan Stevenson’s critically acclaimed inaugural masterpiece “Just Mercy” will leave you spellbound and intrigued. But to dive into it’s pages, you will bear the burden of a brutal and disturbing truth. That the American justice system, as many marginalized and under resourced Americans know far too well, is so deeply flawed, its general sense of promise is undermined.

As someone who grew up at the height of America’s “Crack Epidemic” in the 1980s and 90s, I am keenly familiar with its demons. Being both black, under resourced, and deeply under educated by a public education system seeking serve the interests of adults and not its students, I saw first hand the ways in which the criminal justice became the solution for people like me. If you were black you were a victim of the criminal justice system. Growing up in the inner city, even if I was lost, if I were running from a gang, if I were raped or near the brink of death, I couldn’t imagine a scenario in which I would call the police to render any form of justice. What I have known intuitively almost without a second guess is that justice was nothing I’d ever seen and surely I’d never witness from this system.

Bryan’s book takes on a very emotional and sensational journey of the gross miscarriages of justice in one of the poorest states in America. Centered primarily in Alabama is the story of Walter McMillian, a man who’s story made me cry at every passage. Getting through subway rides was tough. Attempting to have a sound and peaceful lunch overwhelmed me. I worried about Walter McMillian’s fate with every passage. He was, as many of the victims of the criminal justice system in Bryan’s book, a black man of the rural south. The stories, the real lived experiences of people, primarily took place in the 80s and 90s. Racial tension, stereotypes, and classism still controlled the way local politicians viewed citizens, innocence and criminality.

What I learned with every page was that the impossible cruelty of the penal justice system is being perpetrated on the poor everyday. That 14 year olds are sitting for a decade in solitary confinement without contact from the outside. That mentally ill women are being raped and giving birth to the children of the guards who were sent to protect them at enormous rates. That these guards are being protected by unions and powerful interests and remain in those prisons or circled around to rape, brutalize and terrorize other women (and men). I learned than 15 and 16 year olds (not just the ones in my own family) are being sentenced to die for crimes they committed when their minds were legally incapable of understanding their crimes. I learned that men and women are dying via an electric chair without having legal counsel with no DNA evidence. I learned that small town sheriffs, prosecutors, and police officers conspire to protect their own integrity while destroying the lives of under resourced everyday. I learned that behind every criminal is a system of under education, foster care, neglect, abuse and/or a failure of justice.

What I learned from Bryan Stevenson has my soul on fire. I am forever changed. I want everyone to know Marsha Colbey. I want everyone to feel the stain of George Stinney’s execution on their hearts and minds. I want people to shift in their seats and rethink their lives when they encounter the disturbing realties associated with the conviction and imprisonment of Antonio Nunez. I want everyone in the world to know that Ian Manuel spent 18 consecutive years in solitary confinement. I want people to say Trina Garnett’s name as frequently as they say any other victims.

The stories of these victims of justice need to be told.

I am grateful to Bryan for telling them.

 

Wakanda Withdrawal Syndrome and the power of Escapism

Sin

 

 

Wakanda.jpg

At 9:58AM on Friday morning I was plotting with my partner to purchase house seats at Harlem’s Apollo Theater to see Ta-Nehisi Coates interview King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). I’d just seen the advertisement on Instagram the night before, sending me into a frantic rush. I was at a conference to set the political and ideological agenda for black women in the heart of downtown Atlanta, but all I could think about was a way to recapture the excitement of the Black Panther movie. 15 seconds after 10AM, ticketmaster declared the seats sold out. I called for back up. I reached out  to everyone I could to figure out what was happening. I sat on hold with the Apollo box office for an hour before I spoke to a human being only to be transferred to the marketing director. I was livid. I was distraught. The King was coming and I was missing it.

I don’t know anything about Marvel. The comics or the movies. I mostly watch films and read books that center the lives of Black people in real and historical ways. You can’t #AllLivesMatter my entertainment. When I escape I want it to be to a black panacea.  I enter the world of dramatic fantasy the way I enter my real leisure time: centering blackness.

So when Black Panther came out, in all of its blackness, I made all the plans. I preregistered for all the virtual townhalls. I RSVPed for all the pre and post movie parties. I bought all the shirts. I consumed all the articles. I looked up where Ryan Coogler went to college and who Chadwick Boseman was dating. And in a matter of 10 days, I’ve seen Black Panther 5 times in 3 cities.

And taking it in was one of the most glorious movie going experiences of my life. I escaped in a way I wasn’t expecting.  I loved that King T’Challa was a perfect looking, noble Black man who wasn’t perfect at all. I found him to be diplomatic in ways that were problematic. His isolationism came at a grave cost to a pan-African and Diasporic awakening. That felt numbing but it still resonated with me. I know King T’Challas. He was a composite character of people I’d known and loved and followed for years. His nobility juxtaposed against the whites felt like a moral victory. King T’Challa was the Obama of the Marvel world. He was cool and aspirational. His swag when he walked in to Shuri’s lab reminded me of the moments when President Obama would walk out for an east wing press conference. He was morally irrefutable. He was pragmatic. He was palatable. He held the moral high ground for the world and he transcended blackness. He was made for Disney.

But King T’Challa’s scene with his father after taking the vibranium during his coma in J’Bari land left me captivated. His father was wrong. And he told him as much. King T’Challa could be radicalized I thought. There was hope that Wakanda could be the black panacea of my escapist dream! He was threatened by a younger, woker Killmonger who moved him to potential. And while King T’Challa played well on the world stage, Killmonger commanded the halls of the Black, pan-African one. I was in a trance.

There were times when I was breathless watching Black Panther. There were times when I was near tears. There were times when I was disappointed. There were times when I was in love. There were times when I grieved. But there was never a time I wasn’t full. There was never a time I didn’t believe. And at no point did I want Black Panther to end. Because these were all black people having conversations with black people, like they were black people I knew.

And a movie, for the first time in my lifetime, centered the lives of people who were unmistakably black. And they were complex, thoughtful, heroic, principled, and clever.

And of the great deal of black people I know, this is how I know them. That is never told to me through a movie with so many unmistakably black characters.

And can I tell y’all a secret? I’ve always felt culturally rich. I’ve always found beauty in deep dark bodies. I’ve never felt shame for being Black. Not even a single moment. And though I’ve felt the weight of white patriarchy, I never remember feeling less than glorious because of my skin. But there were times I’ve felt irrational for thinking and believing I was glorious. Because very few things in the world could confirm that glorious feeling. There were moments in this film that did.

My mind lusts after Wakanda because it is completely new. I didn’t need to contort myself into Nigeria or Ghana or some place I didn’t belong. I didn’t need to contend with someone. It was a home all made up for me. And my mind wants Wakanda to be real because if it were, it could be made perfect. There was enough there that I loved that I could go back to. I want to give up on this fight against white supremacy and go on reprieve in Wakanda. Wakanda felt like something I know can be home. It’s a place you can be proud to be from. Wakanda feels like a place where I could go heal after the weight of white supremacy has broken me and I could put my self back together again.

What Wakanda was for me was a confirmation of how I see the various parts of my Black identity. And the euphoria of seeing exactly that on a big screen is glorious. I didn’t know I needed my imagination validated in those ways until it happened. It was the quickest movie I’d ever watched because I wanted it to go on forever.

And the truth is, I’ve been chasing Wakanda forever. The feeling of being just black and having to deal with all the intraracial issues that don’t have the weight of racism. I’ve lived in Wakandian neighborhoods. I’ve attended Wakandian schools. I’ve visited countries in Africa to bask in the feeling of plurality. I’ve sought to go to spaces in isolation of white people to retreat, to prepare, to remind myself of myself and to be whole again. And I almost hate when it’s interrupted. When I’m awakened to white woman tears in a board meeting. When I am met with powerlessness at yet another murder of an unarmed black (wo)man. When I have to code switch to feel educated and respected. When my Wakanda becomes reduced to my HBCU homecoming weekend, my home, and Corner Social in Harlem on a Saturday, I start having withdrawal. I don’t want it in doses anymore. I want Wakanda Forever.

And I want Wakanda for validation. For the deep whisper of a “yes” that answers the question “Am I real? Am I ok? ” in this skin. It is our obsession with being validated nobly in a world that reinforces this notion that historically we ain’t shit and present day we won’t ever be shit. It is our reality of being so starved of a whole world that is unkind to us. An isolated world that can protect us fiercely from a western evil that seeks to only enslave, steal and harm us. It is a place where love is black and glorious. Where we can sit on mountaintops with waterfalls and live out the traditions of generations. It is magical and enchanting. But most of all, we didn’t want to suspend our disbelief because we wanted Wakanda to be real.

And so when you leave the theater, the high starts to leave you as well. After you’ve taken all the pictures and replayed all the scenes in your mind. You’re thrown back into reality where white identity is centered. You have to work harder to protect yourself from the white gaze. You return to work with white people holding all the cards. You drift past a once prospering black neighborhood only to be met by stares of gentrifiers looking on. And you long for Wakanda again.  And you imagine yourself escaping. And only Wakanda will do. So you sneak into another showing, eyes locked on every scene, until it ends again too soon and you’re thrown out of Wakanda again.

The Meaning of Michelle to Me

Sin

 

 

 

Last night, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to be among the 20,000 Americans in Chicago to see President Obama’s final farewell speech. The speech was widely watched and well attended by politicos and celebrities alike.

But what I loved most about yesterday was the way President Obama made it a point to go on and on about our First Lady Michelle Obama. And everything in me is not the kind of woman that gets easily excited when a man shows his wife love and attention in public. I've held steadfast to this ill-informed notion, even in my own marriage that if you got it (the good, nurturing love) then  don’t flaunt it.

At a time where the ability to marry for some is still being debated. At a time when Black women, particularly those who intend to marry Black men, are torn apart and ridiculed by those on the right who want us to hurry up and marry and by those on the left who want us to (in choosing black men) somehow ‘level up.’ At a time when hetero black love is seen as both fleeting and unstable. At a time when even in that unraveling, it is always on the shoulders of black women. Barack made us sit in his adornment of her. And I wanted to eat every bite.

 

I didn’t want to relish in it, but my God it was glorious. The way that President Obama insisted on it. To make every one of us stand before her. He waited on it. He waited on us to gather our purses from our laps, stand and clap. He made us fuss over her. When she misses our compliments he reemphasizes them. He knows she was the catch. He knows it and he wants us to know it. 

And she is well-degreed, skilled, and extraordinarily accomplished as an executive in her own right. But what I love most about her is that she is a very particular woman that he is loving on in public. She’s a Black woman. Of a particular shade. With a particular body type. The arc of her back slides down at a particular angle that makes it hard for us not to notice.  Her hips are spread in a particular way that’s very familiar to me. She’s a black woman of a particular age. With a particular height. With particular edges that require ancestral love and a history of attention. And our white hegemonic society rarely holds up the Michelle Obama's as desirable and worthy of a standing ovation.

And most of all, our first Lady is descended from very particular people. She is unequivocally a descendant of African American slaves. At a time where even in the larger African diaspora, everything except THAT has been upheld as a standard of brilliance, beauty and worthiness. She is coffee with no sugar and light cream. She can say with joy and a mischievous grin that she and her daughters dance on the lawns built by her ancestors. She is black with a full stop. No explanation needed.

Her presence has been a proxy of my own blackness. She makes me weep. In a bucket.

Because they can never unhear her voice. They can never unsee her face. Her body. They can never unsee the way her arm stretches above her head to light a Christmas tree. They can never unsee the way jumpropes, blushes at the old Black women that whisper in her ear, the way she sings church hymns in old black churches from memory. They can not unsee her eyeroll. The way she commands a room. And when they cry in their bucket of white tears, they can never undo the smile on my face every time I see her.

And I know her presence won’t create world peace, but my God, didn’t she do it? She showed up every time. She is the very best of us. She is the very best of me. She made me a better woman. She made me own it. To stand in it. And because of Michelle LaVonne Robinson Obama from the southside of Chicago, not only will I never be the same but I won’t her hide again.