Month: June 2020

Black Lives MatterEducationSocial Justice

Injustice at Agnes Scott College

As I walk around Decatur, Georgia where I reside, the spaces close to Agnes Scott College are decorated with Black Lives Matter signs.

Black Lives Matter sign near Agnes Scott College

If Black Lives really mattered to Agnes Scott College, Black and Brown students of the college would have the support and encouragement to fulfill their stellar intrinsic potential. These students would be surrounded by faculty and staff that affirmed them, that welcomed them into their offices without reservation, serving up intellectually challenging but uplifting discussion, encouraging words, a chai if need be, providing courses and learning spaces in which their brilliance was able to shine. If Black Lives Mattered, then the retention and promotion of Black faculty would be a priority. If Black Lives Mattered, then the College would have addressed larger issues of reparations for the enslaved labor used by its founder, (Confederate) Colonel George W. Scott. If Black Lives Mattered, then active participation in the education of Black women in the surrounding community would be a priority, it would be evident in a vibrant Beacon Hill (a Black enclave of Decatur adjacent to campus) community.

From the Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 2. Isn’t it time for reparations?

Gayatri Sethi, my partner, was laid off from Agnes Scott College three years ago today. Dr. Sethi unfailingly and generously served up the affirmation and advocacy so critical to making Black Lives Matter.

The explanation given as to why she was dismissed was “budget cuts”. Then as now it rings hollow, like the punitive actions taken against so many Black and Brown women in academia whose stories are now coming forward in places like #BlackInTheIvory on Twitter.

For going on ten years, I witnessed her put heart, love, and soul into the education of women at Agnes Scott. She taught classes in Feminist Studies and Education as an adjunct and then was hired to help design and roll out a global studies program named Summit. She put all the skill and meticulousness that had earned her a Stanford Ph.D. into crafting the program, going beyond the “drive by” cultural exoticization which so much of global learning — crafting the classes and preparation that would prepare young women for transformative and meaningful experiences abroad. Experiences centered on shared humanity, the ability to understand people for who they are. I watched as she developed partnerships with communities in Trinidad, and challenged her colleagues to decolonize their instruction.

She, and by extension, we, paid a hefty price for that much needed boldness.

After the election of 2016, she was an advocate and trusted advisor for Black, African, Muslim, and South Asian students. Being an advocate, and trusted advisor for young women in crisis was not viewed positively by the administration, but seen as a direct threat to the very core of the college. She was told to end her unapologetic Black Lives Matter work, and cease public support of Muslim student protestors on campus. These activities she was told, reflected poorly on the college administration.

As the travel bans came into effect I could barely contain the rage I felt as they attempted to prevent her from showing basic human compassion to her students, silence her from speaking from her lived experience of traveling through interrogations and harassment for the crime of holding an African passport while Brown. For her to be dismissed as an “agitator” for the offense of showing academic and human integrity.

I witnessed over those days prior to her dismissal what seemed like an endless parade of Black students whose existence, competence had been questioned and attacked by faculty, only to be raised up by her words, by the meditations she would slip in, the way she would center them in classes. The crushing of Black spirits that I witnessed her intercede in was hard for me to watch — I witnessed those tears and heard the fears in the phone conversations.

I think that my anger was made even greater by knowing the depth of the injustice. I knew things didn’t need to be this way. I attended Morehouse as an undergrad, I went to nursery school at Spelman College (a historically Black women’s college in Atlanta) during the late 1960’s, was cared for by Black women student activists who were changing the world, and I had known and been raised by Black and African women who’d attended Spelman and other historically Black colleges. I am living proof that it is possible to educate Black people, Black women without destroying them. That all to say, that I am a witness to the confidence and nurturing of spirt that an all-women’s college could be. Time and again, I witnessed that potential betrayed at Agnes Scott.

I saw Black women on the staff come and then go. The same modality of repression. Tears and frustration. Yet saw my partner offering the same compassion and solidarity and empathy with those colleagues.

After word got out of my partner’s dismissal, many of her students came to rally together. They appealed. They wrote petitions. They used the hashtag #ThankYouDrSethi to call attention to what they had experienced. They were silenced, disciplined and ignored.

In partnership with many of those students, a community of support called Alt College was created. I watched many continue to flower as budding designers, scientists, health professionals, and activists. This in spite of the college. Alt College and the ensuing community provided the kind of safe and uplifting place that they and others like them so desperately need in these times.

I took the photos in this post on a day — June 7, when there was a Black Lives Matter protest in Decatur. I briefly pulled into a side street on campus after taking a photo, my car’s hazard flashers on. All of 20 seconds. Within that amount of time, a campus police officer started running toward me with a grim face. White protestors streamed by, many walking across the campus. If I had stayed until the officer had arrived, would any of the woke protest participants bothered to question things? I didn’t wait to find out.

Today, academia is being unmasked and challenged and held to account for its participation in white supremacy. The ShutDownStem site has resources that will aid you in confronting and ending racism in academia. I thought that it was time to say something, to add my voice to the many who’ve come forth.

In the spirit of offering something concrete for those to come, a few suggestions:

  1. Black parents students who value their education and safety have to be discerning about where they and their loved ones go to school. This attitude has to start long before college. Demand figures on
    graduation rates, the number of Black students that have received meaningful employment after graduation, and acceptance to graduate programs. Do the research on students that have left the institution. Talk to the people that have gone there. Look beyond the numbers and get to the lived experiences.
  2. Students, faculty and staff everywhere can demand accountability in the promotion and retention of faculty and staff of color.
  3. Students, faculty and staff everywhere can demand that the faculty, staff and students harmed by racist and anti-Black policies be recompensed for the damages done.
  4. The Decatur community, Agnes Scott alums, and those who currently work there can demand that Agnes Scott College institute reparations to address the the exploitation of enslaved African Americans by founder George W. Scott and anti-Black gentrification that still persists in Decatur.

Black Lives Matter.

anti-racismBlack Lives Matter

The Black Computing Community’s call for equity and fairness

Black people in computing and their allies — designers, developers, technical support professionals, bloggers, data scientists, technical writers, on and on — have issued a call for equity and fairness.

Read it https://blacksincomputingopenlettercommunity.wordpress.com/

We want computing to stop harming and menacing Black lives. We want equity in computing and not repression. We want justice.

anti-racismAtlantaGeorgia

Racist monuments are slowly crumbling

Slowly, with each passing day, with each gathering of thousands, the physical monuments to white supremacy are coming down.

It is too early to tell if the immense institutional structures that erected them — policing, the very U.S. economy, the educational system, the health care system — will also be reborn in the wake of the Movement for Black Lives. I pray it is not too late.

I take some hope from what existed before

The Confederate memorial in Decatur square just east of Atlanta, July 5, 2019

…and what exists now

Residents leave their thoughts, June 7, 2020

Maybe the phoenix is rising.

Update 6/13/2020: A judge declared the “monument” a public nuisance, allowing the process of removal to begin. Another brick of racism demolished, so many more to remove before the whole thing crumbles. It’s a step in a long journey

anti-racismPolicingSocial Justice

Be a prison abolitionist

I am a prison abolitionist.

Being a prison abolitionist does not mean that I believe that all prisons should be destroyed.

It does mean that I believe that the fact that United States uses prisons and policing to solve problems in health care, education, and justice is itself criminal and must be abolished. It means that the way prisons are used to enforce white supremacy and anti-Blackness is a crime against humanity and must be abolished. It means that I believe we have the capacity to imagine ways that cities and communities can be rebuilt, supported, and valued in ways that promote safe and healthy lives. It means the terror that is inflicted upon Black and Brown bodies by policing as currently implemented — on graphic display across all major U.S. cities now, but so much a daily part of how Black and Brown life is lived — is a crime against humanity and must be abolished. Being a prison abolitionist means that I refuse to accept that things must be the way they are now.

I am going to share the personal anecdotes and reflections that brought me to this point, but let me first share the eloquent and to-the-point words of Ruth Wilson Gilmore that lay out the case far better than I could. Be a prison abolitionist.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore discusses abolition with Naomi Murakawa

When I was in grade-school, we would spend some Sunday evenings driving my grandmother to a small correctional facility for young women. She worked there a few hours a week as a counselor. She would tell stories about the young women there, most had been placed there due to petty crimes like shoplifting. Most had not completed high school. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that better schools should be an alternative to prison. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that punitive discipline in schools, and other practices that force out young Black girls and women from schools into prisons should be abolished. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that ready access to support systems, to the kind of counseling and encouragement that my grandmother provided should be the alternative to prisons. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that sex work should not be punitively criminalized. That protections for sex workers should be one alternative to prison.

It turns out that my uncle carried on his mother’s work and spent his career as counselor at a correctional facility in Georgia. Many of the Black men that he would speak to had not finished high school. His clients had deep emotional and psychological problems, addictions some, that had brought them to the prison system. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that the answer to the alarming incarceration of Black youth is to build better schools, not bigger prisons. You believe that access to health care is a critical step. You believe that restorative justice in the high school and in courts is a start. You believe that people who have resorted to petty crimes like check forgery deserve viable alternatives for earning a living wage, not death at the knees of police. You believe that Black youth deserve to have their souls elevated in schools, not their souls crushed. You don’t believe we need military equipment and predator drones in the hands of our police.

When I was a graduate student, Ambassador Andrew Young, one of the iconic leaders of the U.S. Civil Rights movement paid a visit to the university. He had been the second Black mayor of the city I grew up in, and was one of the people we looked up to growing up. I asked him what I could contribute as a computer scientist. Immediately he responded that educational software in the prisons was essential — there are so many young brothers in prison he said, and they don’t have access to education. I think about that often. Don’t my brothers deserve schools, not prisons? I thought to myself. If you are a prison abolitionist, then you believe that we need to build schools that can educate the Brothers, that we need to build systems that distinguish between the “crimes of desperation” and the criminals that are committing large scale voter suppression, murdering innocent runners, or trying to arrest bird watchers. If you are a prison abolitionist, then the Black and Latinx people imprisoned for attempting to sell or distribute marijuana should be freed and those dealing with addiction should have access to adequate mental and emotional support. Why do we imprison Black folk while former elected officials make millions from their involvement in marijuana growing initiatives?

We know that incarceration rates in the United States are an injustice to all

We know that Black men are “six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men”

Racial disparities in imprisonment — this is how we enforce white supremacy

If you are a prison abolitionist, then you believe that a young Black man’s life is worth more than a trash can

If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that someone shouldn’t be locked up, brutalized, and exposed to COVID-19 because they can’t afford to pay a parking ticket.

Seven of the 10 largest outbreaks in the country have been at correctional facilities

Equal Justice Inititive

Let’s be prison abolitionists.

You can start by supporting the following organizations

You can start by reading

Just start somewhere.

Update 6/14/2020

Last night (6/13), there was violent police repression of a protest following the police murder of Rayshard Brooks.

It underscores the urgency of police and prison abolition.

Please donate to http://atlsolidarity.org if you have the reaources

anti-racismAtlantaBlack Lives Matter

The Uprising in Atlanta

The uprising in Atlanta — and cities throughout the United States — continues.

On Monday (June 1), a group of engaged scholars, Dr. Illya Davis (my esteemed Morehouse brother and professor of Philosophy there), Dr Nsenga Burton, professor and co-director of Film and Media Management at Emory University, and Dr Maurice Hobson author of The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta and associate professor of African-American Studies at Georgia State University gave an insightful discussion of the on-going protests in Atlanta.

Please listen here at WABE

Some of my notes from their discussion:

For Black folks, this is an uprising.

Dr Nsenga Burton

The fundamental issues have been undermined by people trying to focus on the destruction of private property. People are emphasizing the material over the human.

Dr Illya Davis

This feels like the point that is fundamental to understanding why the protests persist in all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. Because profit is more important that Black lives in nursing homes and elder care facilities. Because profits are more important than the lives of Black and Brown farm workers and meat packing plant workers in Georgia. Because hospital profits are more important that protecting the lives of the Black and Brown workers that clean the hospitals in Georgia. Because the profits from state and private prisons are worth more than Black lives. Because it is ok to police Black lives to the point of extinction.

There are oft cited myths about Atlanta that seek to hide and erase these deadly inequities. Atlanta has been called the city to busy to hate. The mayor of Atlanta denigrated the violent actions of protestors: This is not the Atlanta way, while realizing that the life of her own son is endangered by the police force she “controls”.

Professor Hobson emphasized the urgent need for us to understand history, preferring to call what was going on in Atlanta a rebellion

A rebellion is the overthrow of a system that has been oppressive.

Dr Maurice Hobson

Dr Hobson spoke to the nuanced history of political action in Atlanta. He reflected in these times that we need constant history lessons. In 1966, Atlanta citizens of the Summerhill community staged an uprising in response to police brutality. One of the organizers of the uprising was Black Panther Party and SNCC leader Kwame Toure. 1967, a rebellion occurred in the Dixie Hill section of Atlanta sparked again by police brutality. It was Mr Toure who in the 1980s my fellow Morehouse students and I to organize, organize, organize. He made impassioned pleas that we realize the urgency of collective struggle. I did not know the full implication of his words then. I hope that you read and act upon them now.

This old clip is still relevant

We still have Angela

Last night, demonstrators were dispersed from Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta with tear gas. Over 50 have been arrested. The military helicopters that I saw overhead yesterday feel like a persistent PSYOP Earlier this week, two brave students Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young were freed from jail after having been brutalized by the Atlanta Police.

There are many efforts such as The Atlanta Solidarity Fund that are addressing the on going situation. Please support them.