Category: Atlanta

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-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.

AtlantaGeorgiaSocial Justice

Why is Atlanta burning?

When they ask you why Atlanta was burning last night, tell them it was an uprising.

If you want a quick answer, you can quote the economist Thomas Piketty

Every human society must justify its inequalities: unless reasons for them are found, the whole political and social edifice stands in danger of collapse.

Capital and Ideology, Thomas Piketty

Tell them that a Black life should be worth more than a pane of glass, or a store, but that nearly a thousand Black lives in Atlanta’s surrounding counties have been lost because a governor refused to take action to protect them from deaths of inequality.

There were fires and police beatings taking place down on DeKalb Avenue not far from where I live. If you know Civil War history, this was where General Sherman began his march to the Sea in 1864.

They will tell you that this 1864 march this caused a path of fire and destruction down from Atlanta to Savannah. Maybe they won’t tell you that the army burned down a system of slavery, torture, rape, and a racialized state built upon terror. They won’t tell you that Solomon Luckie was one of the first people to die in the shelling of Atlanta that year. A Black barber, who I’m damn suredied happy knowing that his people were finally free. Is it a wonder that the governor of this state singled out barbershops to begin operation with the pandemic still raging?

Maybe they should tell you that millions like Solomon were freed from dire oppression. They surely won’t tell you how my great grand parents at that moment were freed from bondage by those fires.

They might also not tell you that in 1906, the year my grandmother was born, Black communities were targeted and destroyed by White mobs in the Atlanta race riots. Along this same stretch of street, my mother’s cousin still recounts how they would shudder at home as Klansmen galloped through the street at night. Or how the Atlanta Black community watched as countless cases were fabricated against Black men and women, some resulting in death penalty convictions meted out in vengeful certitude. At least those were spared lynching.

And still today, despite decades of Black mayors, Atlanta suffers among the highest levels of income inequality in the United States — and hence the Western world. You could read The Legend of the Black Mecca to understand the nuances of why these inequalities persist. To understand why the Black laborers — the sanitation workers, the delivery drivers, the gig economy workers, the patient nurses at assisted living facilities — are vulnerable to afflictions like COVID and have few bad options in terms of health, education and food. Their families locked out of access to mobility because of structural inequities that preclude access to healthy food, healthcare, safe and affordable housing and the other factors that contribute to a stable and fulfilled life.

Fulton county in which Atlanta exists, has the highest COVID death toll in the state. That the toll is highest among African Americans should come as no mystery given the work that puts us at more risk and the factors that make access to healthcare so precarious,

They might tell you they can just vote. But I’m going to remind that racialized gerrymandering in Georgia is a thing, I’m going to remind that racist voter suppression in Georgia probably impacted the governor’s election (and will probably impact the 2020 election). I’m going to recount how I spent half a day last week tracking down an absentee voter application that I sent in that was “lost”. So tell them that our democracy is in shambles.

They’ll tell you that the oppressed should be non-violent. Perhaps with organization and time. Tell them the origins of the violence are still not clear. Remind them that there were fires in Hong Kong too. Remind them that the fires pale in comparison to the perpetual state sponsored violence ravaging Black, LatinX, Indigenous, and Asian communities throughout the United States.

You ask why is Atlanta burning. I’ll try to tell you how it feels. That it feels like the U. S. has been in a perpetual state of war on the Black and Indigenous populations since its founding. So it should not surprise you that the military is sending forces and predator drones to Minnesota.

What is it called when a country wages war on its most vulnerable civilian population? When it is ok with seeing its marginalized people die preventable deaths? Was it ok with you that there was an uprising in Lodz? Do you want us to get to that point?

When we know from all the data available that our lives are of no value to you, that our votes do not count, that the education of our children is of no importance, then perhaps the right question is why it took so long for the fires to start? This is why we say Black Lives Matter. Is in an affirmation of our existence in the face of your insistence that we just lay down and die.

If you understand the gilets jaunes in Paris, then you don’t need to ask me why Atlanta or Minneapolis is burning. If you understand the Hong Kong protests, then you have the capacity to understand and be in solidarity with Black people in Atlanta.

This is an uprising. This is democracy breaking through.

Update 6/14/2020:

Friday night (6/12), Rayshard Brooks was killed by police at a Wendy’s drive through. Shot in the back. He had fallen asleep while waiting to order, tried to run away, ran after a brief scuffle, and was shot as he ran away.

Protestors gathered immediately. I am told that the protests had been peaceful. Saturday the police showed up with riot gear and US military battlefield equipment. The protesters were gassed, and then burned down the Wendy’s and occupied the interstate.

You can also see updates from @ColonizedLocal on twitter

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

AtlantaGeorgiaHealthcare Inequality

Restarting Georgia’s economy from coronavirus the right way

There are serious concerns about the decision of Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp to reopen businesses as of Friday, April 24th.

Georgia’s governor wants to open businesses. Where’s the science?

Here are some among the many concerns:

  • What are the protections for workers at barbershops, gyms, nail salons? Will PPE be mandatory, will they be provided by the state?
  • Will workers and customers at such establishments be able to get free testing?
  • Will the state expand medicare to pay for healthcare costs incurred by people who catch the virus?
  • Will the state provide secure mechanisms for contact tracing?
  • Will the state provide expanded minimum wage guarantees to employees putting themselves at risk?
  • Will the state provide for a moratorium on evictions and actions against those businesses who choose not to reopen?
  • Will mayors choose morals above profits to protect their citizenry?

By now, there have been a lot of analyses of appropriate ways to reopen economies. For example, Austria is investigating a rollback in it’s lockdown but provides more social support and has reported 1/3 the deaths as the state of Georgia. Masks are required in public spaces. Georgia has also not shown the sustained downward trajectory of cases. Most alarmingly, Georgia, as many other areas, has tremendous inequality in healthcare access according to recent figures from the Georgia Department of Health, more than 50% of the deaths occur amongst African Americans. Black people account for just over 30% of the residents of the state.

I started a petition to ask for more accountability. If you’re a resident of the state, please ask questions via the governor’s constituent services site. If you live in Atlanta or Decatur, or Albany, you can express support for your elected officials to enact morally responsible policies. GoFundMe campaigns or other mutual aid might be effective in keeping your favorite local business afloat while safe practices are enacted.

Please stay safe.

AIAlgorithmsAtlanta

The city of Atlanta doesn’t use facial recognition — so why does Delta Airlines?

I recently made an inquiry with the City of Atlanta’s Mayor’s office as to the use of facial recognition software. I received the following reply on the Mayor’s behalf from the Atlanta Police Department

The Atlanta Police Department does not currently use nor the capability to perform facial recognition. As we do not have the capability nor sought the use of, we not have specific legislation design for or around facial recognition technology.

Delta Airlines, a company based in Atlanta, continues to promote the use of facial recognition software, and according to this wired article makes it difficult for citizens to opt out of its use.

There are several concerns with use of facial recognition technology, succinctly laid out by the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Face recognition is a method of identifying or verifying the identity of an individual using their face. Face recognition systems can be used to identify people in photos, video, or in real-time. Law enforcement may also use mobile devices to identify people during police stops. 

But face recognition data can be prone to error, which can implicate people for crimes they haven’t committed. Facial recognition software is particularly bad at recognizing African Americans and other ethnic minorities, women, and young people, often misidentifying or failing to identify them, disparately impacting certain groups.

Additionally, face recognition has been used to target people engaging in protected speech

Electronic Frontier Foundation at https://www.eff.org/pages/face-recognition

So in other words, the technology has the potential for free assembly and privacy abuses and because the algorithms used are typically less accurate for people of color (POC), the potential abuses are multiplied.

There are on going dialogs (here is the U.S. House discussion on the impact on Civil Liberties) on when/how/if to deploy this technology.

Do me a favor? If you happen to fly Delta, or are a member of their frequent flyer programs, could you kindly ask for non-facial recognition check in? Then asking for more transparency on the use and audit of the software used would be an important step forward.

AtlantaPoliticsSocial Justice

Vote absentee if you live in Georgia

Want to make sure your vote counts in the Georgia November election? Casting an absentee ballot may be the way to go!

Federal judge Amy Totenberg (sister of Nina Totenberg if you are an NPR listener) ruled Monday that Georgia could go ahead using insecure paperless voting machines.

Although Judge Totenberg concurred with many cybersecurity experts that the voting machines pose a credible threat of alteration of ballot counts, she decided that the last minute switch would impose a burden on voters and a logistical challenge to the state’s election commission. If you’re not up on the current events, the head of the Georgia election commission is running for governor in a highly contested election and there have been some irregularities in his management (or lack thereof) of voting records. Hmm.

There have been charges of voter suppression, a 21st century step back from a hard won right to vote — ponder the 19th century Harper’s magazine image above celebrating the democratic participation of newly emancipated peoples post Civil War.

The main concern with electronic voting machines — especially the ones used in Georgia — is that they cannot be easily audited. The National Academy of Sciences in their report recommended in fact that “Voting machines that do not provide the capacity for independent auditing (e.g., machines that do not produce a voter-verifiable paper audit trail) should be removed from service as soon as possible.” This applies to the machines used in Georgia, and Judge Totenberg effectively ruled that this should be the last election in which such machines are use.  Further, a malicious and technically sophisticated insider could alter voting records — that is “hack” the election.

Now if you cast an absentee ballot, the paper copy is preserved. Voter advocate sites like vote.org can help you get your ballot in a matter of seconds. There is an online tool that the Georgia Secretary of State’s office provides. I am not whether the online tool provides the functions that the National Academy of Sciences recommends — tracking of absentee ballot delivery and receipt.

In any case, absentee is a good way to be very present in the democratic process in Georgia.

 

 

 

AtlantainclusionSocial Justice

Avondale Estates is having a backlash

Martin Luther King feared fully expected that there would be a backlash as basic human rights for African Americans expanded. There were historic precedents for this such as the reversal of post-Civil War Reconstruction-era freedoms during the last decades of the 19th century and the rise of segregationist laws throughout the southern US during the 1950s. Ta-Nahesi Coates speaks eloquently on the last incarnation of this in his Atlantic piece The First White President.

I am witnessing the evolution of this fourth backlash wave play out where I live, just east of Atlanta. Yesterday, my family and I witnessed the incident which is the featured image of this post. A White police officer handcuffs, and humiliates a young Black man about 15 feet from us through the window of a shop were we frequently have a relaxed brunch. The shop, I should mention is owned by a Black woman, also a resident of Avondale Estates. I should have stood with my young Brother and recorded the incident — sadly I know that life will give me other opportunities. To witness is a powerful comfort and statement. The young man showed calm and grace, as many of us have learned to do in such situations (I’ve been there).

Avondale Estates, a little east of Atlanta until recently had de-facto housing segregation through special real estate covenants. The history of housing segregation in Georgia, and the Atlanta area is both fascinating and frightening. If you zoom in on the Avondale Estates area, you’ll notice interesting racial disparities. There’s more information in this 50-year look back at the fair housing act.

Avondale Estates and the small towns to it’s north and east have been notorious for the disproportionate amount of revenue garnered from African Americans being stopped for minor traffic violations.

fining_cities

Georgia cities — especially Stone Mountain and Clarkston lead the nation in the fining of Black people

I wish we knew more, but like it’s voting transparency, information on racism in policing in Georgia is hard to come by.

Although one of my close friends (also African American) purchased a home in Avondale Estates in the ’90s, anecdotally (just from informal conversation), the number racialized policing and other incidents around exclusion have continued to grow.

I’ll detail one particular issue I’ve encountered. In Avondale, several times when walking while Black, my family and I have encountered on several occasions the question “Do you live around here?” Word of caution and advice for any (non-Black) person with the bad home training to ask this question. The 14th amendment of the Constitution of the United States is generally understood as guaranteeing access to the public roads to any US citizen, “green card” holder, or basically any human being regardless of what they look like. Dear White People, it’s not your militia/Klan duty to keep American or Avondale Estates or any other space in this country White. There’s my peculiar rant.

What can done? A few suggestions:

  • Check out the hash tag #StopRacialProfilingAvondaleEstatesGA
  • When you see these incidents going down, use your phone and record.
  • Start demanding accountability from your police officers, city and county representatives.
  • Talk to your children about race, about racial profiling, about racialized violence.

Let’s end the police state together.

 

AtlantaBooksinclusionMigrationWriting

Gayatri interviews Yuyi Morales at Decatur Book Festival

My partner Dr Gayatri Sethi is interviewing celebrated writer and illustrator Yuyi Morales today at the Decatur Book Festival today, Saturday, September 1 from 1:00 to 1:30. They’ll be discussing Morales’ new book Dreamers.

Isn’t it time you talked to your children about what is going on at the border? Dreamers talks about Morales’s own 1994 journey from Xalapa, Mexico to the US. with her child. It is such a beautifully illustrated book, and a profound story with so many layers.

If you’re in looking to add a highlight to your long weekend, please come through!

AtlantaDistributed WorkinclusionSocial JusticeTechnology

Distributed Inclusion at WordCamp Atlanta

 

The Atlanta WordCamp is an annual gathering for people that use and develop WordPress sites. Although it is put on by and for the Atlanta WordPress community, I met people from all over.

I gave a talk there Sunday (4/15/18) on the state of inclusion in distributed companies. Since WordPress is maintained by a distributed company (Automattic, by employer) and an open source community, the subject is of great relevance.

Let me know what you think. There are more unanswered (and unasked) questions than answers.

Mind filling out this survey if you work at a distributed company or work remotely?

The discussion was lively and thought provoking. A few takeaways:

  • It’s important to be explicit about the excluded groups in your company. Only through getting the discussion going can progress be made.
  • Many people are still concerned about revealing their race/ethnicity/physical ability (even on EEOC questions at end of hiring applications).
  • How do we deal with the bias in reaching out to more diverse populations.
  • How do excluded groups even know where to look for positions, when even job search has build in exclusivity.
  • How can independent consultants and free-lancers be advocates in this space?
  • Is the Internet really the equalizer we think it is?
  • How do we start?

I was delighted by the inclusiveness evident in the conference organizers and attendees. One of the many beautiful things about Atlanta.

Please comment and add your questions!